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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: China's Crisis; the price of change
on: August 18, 2015, 08:17:46 AM
China's Crisis: The Price of Change
August 18, 2015 | 08:08 GMT
By Rodger Baker
Last week was an eventful one for China. First, the People's Bank of China shocked the financial world when it cut the yuan's reference rate against the U.S. dollar by nearly 2 percent, leading to a greater than 2 percent drop in the value of the yuan in offshore trading. The decline triggered a frenzy of speculation, including some expectations that the Chinese move would trigger a race to the bottom for Asian currencies. Beijing said the adjustment was designed to fix distortions between the trading rate of the yuan and the rate it should have been at according to speculation, and that subsequent large shifts were unlikely. The International Monetary Fund, however, noted that the move could lead to a freer floating yuan — something the IMF has asked of Beijing before the organization considers including the yuan in its Special Drawing Rights basket of currencies. In comments made on the sidelines of its annual report on the Chinese economy, released later in the week, the IMF also noted that the yuan was not undervalued, despite the decline.
Also last week, Chinese state media issued a warning to retired officials to stay out of politics and not misuse their former networks and prestige. The warning followed reports in state media suggesting that the annual unofficial gathering of current and former Party officials at Beidaihe was canceled and would not serve as a policy-making venue in the future. The reports noted that Party officials had already held several additional sessions in Beijing and that decisions were being made in the open, not in some secretive gathering of Party elders. Other reports circulating in Chinese media warned that former Party and military officials were involved in real estate speculation along with other economic mismanagement and needed to stop.
Finally, last week China dealt with one of its worst industrial accidents in years — a series of explosions at a chemical short-term storage facility in the busy port city of Tianjin. More than 100 people were killed in the explosions and aftermath, prompting the government to launch an investigation into illegal storage and improper safety procedures at that and other facilities around the country. Citizens have begun small-scale demonstrations in Tianjin to demand government reparations for damages as a result of the blast. In response, Beijing stepped up its media campaign against rumors, using state media to remind the public that the government publicly charged a Politburo standing committee member with corruption, so the public can trust the government to be open and not hide a conspiracy surrounding the Tianjin blast.
If there is a common theme running through these events, it is the way Beijing is emphasizing its openness in decision-making, in reporting and in explaining its actions. This is not the China of the past that tried to hide the truths of major natural or man-made disasters from its citizens. It is not the China that operated by secret agreements made only after a consensus of Party elders, or the China that tried to protect Party officials at the expense of the public. Nor is it the China of tight currency controls, amid fears that the vagaries of global markets could affect China's economic regulation. Or at least that is the message Beijing is trying to send. It is a message perhaps meant more for domestic than international consumption, but one that recognizes that neither abroad nor at home is there a lot of trust in the Chinese Communist Party or the government to pursue a transparent policy. The taint of corruption, collusion and nepotism remains strong and is perhaps even reinforced by the breadth and depth of the ongoing anti-corruption campaign.
Old Systems Become Obsolete
The reality is that China is in the midst of what may be its most serious crisis since the days of Deng Xiaoping. And the model of government and economy Deng put in place is no longer effective at managing China, much less shifting it in a new direction.
As China emerged from the chaos of the Maoist era, Deng initiated three basic policies for China's future growth and development, starting around the early 1980s. First, allow the economy more localized freedom, accepting that some areas would grow faster than others but that in the long run the rising tide would lift all boats. Second, prevent any single individual from truly dominating the Chinese political system. No longer could a figure like Mao Zedong exert so much personal influence that the entire country could be thrown into economic and social upheaval. Instead, China's leaders would be locked into a consensus-driven model that limited any individual source of power and eliminated factions in favor of widespread networks of influence that overlapped so much they could not be truly divisive. And finally, walk softly internationally, be ruthless in the appearance of a non-interference policy and avoid showing any military strength abroad. This latter point was intended to give China time to solidify internal economic and social cohesion and strength while avoiding distraction or inviting undue military attention from its neighbors or the United States.
In retrospect, Deng's model worked exceptionally well for China, at least on the surface. While the Soviet Union collapsed, the Communist Party of China held together, even after Beijing's mismanagement of Tiananmen Square. Although at times slow to respond or initiate proactive change, China's leaders managed the country's rapid economic growth in a way that avoided extreme social or political destabilization. The Party managed not only the leadership transitions set in motion by Deng, but also, amid intra-Party scandal, the latest transition to Xi Jinping. China's leaders even managed the impact of the global economic slowdown and appear capable of maintaining order even as economic growth rates slow considerably.
But the relative calmness on the surface belies disturbing deeper currents. The dark secret of consensus rule was that, while appearing to provide stability, by the late 2000s it was doing more to perpetuate underlying structural problems that could delay or even derail actual reforms or economic evolution. The lack of radical shifts and turns, the avoidance of major recessions and the ability to defer significant but potentially destabilizing reforms made China look like an unstoppable juggernaut. China's economy climbed past Japan's and seemed destined to surpass the U.S. economy. And if economic strength translated into total national strength, then China was emerging as a significant global power. Beijing even began breaking from Deng's cautions on overt military power and started a more assertive foray into the East and South China seas, both because of a perceived need to protect its increasingly important sea lanes carrying natural resources and exports and because it was feeling more powerful and capable and wanted to act on those strengths.
However, all economies are cyclical. As they grow through different stages, the deadwood needs to be trimmed and funding provided for the new shoots. Recessions, slowdowns, bankruptcies and sectorial collapses are all part of the natural economic process, even if they are disruptive in the short term. As China claims to be climbing the value chain in manufacturing and exports, it is not simultaneously trimming away older components of the economy or effectively weaning itself from the stability of large state companies that are disproportionately locking up available capital compared with total employment. Parochial interests by local and provincial governments — themselves keen to avoid any sense of instability — have left massive redundancies intact across China's manufacturing sectors, particularly in heavy industries, the backbone of early Chinese economic growth. Consensus politics allowed China to grow, but not in a healthy manner — and the global economy is no longer giving China the freedom to just keep pouring on the fertilizer and hope no one notices the rot spreading through the trunk and branches.
Xi's Crisis Management
The leadership transition to Xi in 2012 was also not nearly as smooth as it first appeared. It occurred amid the Bo Xilai scandal, in which it appeared the former Chongqing Party Secretary was making a bid not only to reshape the direction of Chinese politics but also to usurp Xi's rise to central Party and state leadership. What has emerged amid the ongoing anti-corruption campaign is that the challenge was much more serious than it may have appeared, including an alleged assassination plot against Xi.
The recent pronouncements regarding former Party leaders and officials staying out of politics suggests that challenges to Xi's position are still emerging. Xi's decision to build a national security council and economic affairs advisory body, to which he belongs, has aroused opposition from former officials used to playing a role in shaping policy. Publicly canceling the unofficial Beidaihe summit was an overt strike against former officials. The consolidation campaign continues.
While China faces some of its toughest economic challenges, and after it has stepped out into the South China Sea and international military affairs in a way it cannot easily pull back on, it is also contending with internal dissent and intra-Party fighting. Xi's consolidation drive, closely linked to the anti-corruption campaign, is all about tightening the reins of control to allow more rapid policy adjustments, force macro-policies on localities and accelerate the Party and state's response time to changing circumstances. But that challenges decades of tradition and entrenched power and interests. It also creates a contradiction: The economic policies are moving toward liberalization, but the political and social policies are moving toward autocracy.
To manage the next phase of China's economic opening and reform — something that changes in the global economy and decades of internal ossification are forcing upon Beijing — Xi is simultaneously cracking down on media, information, social freedoms and the Party itself. The fear is that significant economic reform without tight political control would lead to a repeat of the Soviet experience: the collapse of the Party and perhaps even the state.
Each event, each headline, should be assessed in the context of this internal crisis. The currency dip — an important step in liberalizing yuan trading, gaining a role in the Special Drawing Rights basket and continuing China's path toward yuan globalization (freeing the country at least a little from the dominance of the U.S. dollar) — has auxiliary risks, not least of which is that a freer currency can move in directions far from those the government would like to see. The explosion in Tianjin is reinforcing the fears of rampant mismanagement and corruption. It has sparked a new round of conspiracy speculation and is placing the government in a position where it must deal with protesters in a major city as well as foreign investors and traders — again raising uncomfortable questions about safety and security in China. The warnings against retired officials interfering in politics may be more than just public relations attempts to highlight some newfound transparency.
This is not to say China is on the verge of collapse, that the government and Party is about to fracture along internecine battle lines, or that economic reform is simply impossible in the face of entrenched interests. But none of these are out of the question. China has entered a stage of the uncertain. The transition to an internal demand-driven economy will not happen smoothly, nor will it happen overnight. The reduction in exports and the drain on investment is already under way. And with all of these issues sitting squarely on his shoulders, Xi is preparing for his September visit to the United States, where the litany of concerns about China expands daily.
The transitory period is the most chaotic, the most fragile, and that is where China sits right now.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Donald Trump and the case against birthright citizenships
on: August 18, 2015, 08:08:17 AM
I know we have discussed this previously. Can someone find where?
By Mark Alexander · Aug. 26, 2010
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Only if your mother was “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” (Ciudadanía por Nacimiento – sólo si su madre estaba sujeta a su jurisdicción)
“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” –George Washington
Coming to America
Given the far-reaching implications of illegal immigration, and more recently the Left’s objections to enforcing immigration law in border states like Arizona, the 14th Amendment of our Constitution is receiving some long-overdue attention.
Like every contemporary political debate, the questions raised concerning the meaning of the 14th Amendment are, essentially, about whether we are a nation subject to Rule of Law codified in our Constitution, or we are subjects under the rule of men, subject to a “living constitution” amended primarily by judicial diktat and legislative mischief, rather than amended by the people, as prescribed in Article V.
Does the 14th Amendment mean what its framers intended and the states ratified, or does it mean whatever the courts and Congress have construed it to mean today?
Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which pertains to immigration and naturalization, reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
To discern the authentic meaning of this amendment as originally intended by its framers, we must first start with its plain language, and then further examine the context under which it was proposed and passed. Any debate about the authority of our Constitution must begin with First Principles, original intent.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States…”
This language is plain and easily understood.
“[A]nd subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
This language, too, is plain and easily understood, unless there is a contemporary Leftist political agenda, which does not comport with that understanding, in which case benefactors and beneficiaries of that agenda will interpret (read: misconstrue) it to fit their purposes.
So, what does “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” actually mean? Beyond the apparent plain language definition, a factual interpretation is supported by the context in which this amendment was framed and ratified.
After the War Between the States, freedmen (former slaves) may have been liberated by Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, but they didn’t enjoy the same rights as those who freed them. Though slaves were in the United States legally, and thus, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” they had no assurance of equal rights.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was designed to rectify this injustice by noting in part, “All persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States. … All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.”
The first definition of “citizenship” in legal references is “nationality or legal status of citizenship.”
The 1866 act defined “persons within the jurisdiction of the United States” as all persons at the time of its passage, born in the United States, including all slaves and their offspring.
However, concern that the Act might be overturned by a future Congress motivated its sponsors to make it more resistant to the arbitrary rule of men, so they proposed the 14th Amendment to our Constitution, which upon ratification, would protect the provision of the 1866 Act from legislatures and the courts.
Michigan Sen. Jacob Howard, one of two principal authors of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment (the Citizenship Clause), noted that its provision, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” excluded American Indians who had tribal nationalities, and “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”
According to University of Texas legal scholar Lino Graglia, the second author of the Citizenship Clause, Illinois Sen. Lyman Trumbull, added that “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” meant “not owing allegiance to anybody else.”
Thus, in the plain language of its author, those who are born to parents who are legally in the U.S., who have no allegiance to a foreign power (as diplomats), are thus, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” and have claim to birthright citizenship. Just as plain is the fact that the 14th Amendment would exclude those born to illegal aliens.
Despite the confidence of the 14th Amendment’s authors that it wouldn’t be subject to legislative and judicial mischief, subsequent generations of legislatures and judges have so twisted its plain language as to all but alienate it from its original intent – as they have likewise done with the rest of our Constitution.
For that reason, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is now proposing a measure to restore the original intent of the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause by way of another amendment.
The problem is that Boehner and likeminded conservatives still erroneously rely on the Rule of Law, an assumption that our Constitution is still the Supreme Law of the land. Unfortunately, it has been thoroughly subordinated to the rule of men.
Where does that leave the birthright citizenship debate?
Today, more than 20 percent of all children born in the United States are born to those who have entered the United States unlawfully, and who are, by any authentic definition of the 14th Amendment, NOT subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. because they are not citizens. Yet Barack Hussein Obama and his Socialist Bourgeoisie assert that the “anchor babies” of illegal immigrants are owed all the entitlements of an American citizen.
The near-term consequences of this fallacious assertion have dire implications for the future of Liberty, for the Rule of Law, and for the very survival of our nation. But this is consistent with Obama’s objective of “fundamentally transforming” our nation by breaking the back of free enterprise, which is a foundational component of Liberty.
In 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson proposed the national motto, “E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”), but that unity will not last much longer if we do not take dramatic action to restore the Rule of Law.
In 1919, Theodore Roosevelt penned these words: “We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
Now, writes Graglia, “It is difficult to imagine a more irrational and self-defeating legal system than one which makes unauthorized entry into this country a criminal offense and simultaneously provides perhaps the greatest possible inducement to illegal entry,” making a child born to that immigrant “an American citizen, entitled to all the advantages of the American welfare state.”
For the record, according to both the Justice Department and Homeland Security, “A person born in the United States to a foreign diplomatic officer accredited to the United States, as a matter of international law, is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. That person is not a United States citizen under the 14th Amendment.”
So, according to current laws and regulations, consistent with the original intent of both the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment as duly ratified on 9 July 1868, the child of a diplomat born in the United States, though that diplomat is legally on U.S. soil, has no birthright entitlement to citizenship.
However, according to Obama and his Leftist cadres, inconsistent with both the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, a child born to anyone who enters the U.S. illegally has a birthright entitlement to citizenship.
Which will it be, then: Rule of Law or the rule of Obama?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Money, the Fed, Banking, Monetary Policy, Dollar & other currencies, Gold/Silver
on: August 17, 2015, 01:52:10 PM
Financial System Healing To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Every month, the National Association of Realtors reports on existing home sales, which are closings on previously-owned homes. These sales have been doing very well lately, up in four of the past five months and up almost 10% from a year ago. We expect further gains when the next report comes out Thursday morning.
But these solid headlines are missing what is probably the most important point about existing home sales. In the past year, all-cash buyers have dropped to 22% of sales from 32% a year ago. So, even as total sales have risen almost 10%, mortgage-backed purchases have risen more than 25%.
In our view, there’s no better sign that the financial system, at least as it relates to consumers, is getting closer to normal.
Meanwhile, the average household is in the best financial shape in a generation. The financial obligations ratio measures the share of after-tax income that households need to service their debts and other recurring obligations, so it covers mortgages, rent, car loans and leases, as well as debt service on credit cards, student loans, and other lending arrangements, like signature loans.
Back in late 2007, just before recession started, these payments were the largest share of after-tax income on record, going back to 1980. But after the huge consumer debt reduction during and after the recession, for the past few years, these payments have been the smallest share of after-tax income since the early 1980s.
Payment rates on credit cards – the share of principal balances and finance charges that consumers are paying every month – are the highest on record (starting in 1992), according to Standard & Poor’s. At the same time, delinquency rates are at an all-time low.
And remember the wave of foreclosures that was supposed to bring down the economy? Well, according to the NY Federal Reserve Bank, the number of consumers with new foreclosures showing up on their credit reports is the lowest on record going back to 1999, even lower than during the housing boom.
In other words, consumers are in a position to borrow more while banks are finally starting to boost lending.
No wonder auto sales have fully recovered from the disaster in 2008-09. In the past twelve months, Americans have bought cars and light trucks at a 17 million annual rate. For 2015 as a whole, a pace of 17.5 million is within reach, which would top the previous record of 17.4 million set back at the peak of the internet boom in 2000.
This doesn’t mean everything is right with the financial system. Far from it. The private system could have healed earlier and faster without Dodd-Frank and federal micromanagement. Someone needs to explain to the Fed that having a Ph.D. in economics doesn’t mean you know how to run a bank, not even close. This is one reason why the US economy remains a Plow Horse several years into recovery.
Meanwhile, the public portion of our financial system – a part of it we wish didn’t even exist – is trying to expand again, regardless of the disaster it caused in the prior decade. For example, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and is led by a presidential appointee, has encouraged loans where the down-payment is as low as 3%. Luckily, so far, Fannie and Freddie haven’t expanded in any noticeable way, at least not yet.
The bottom line is that the US financial system still has a way to go before it’s fully healed, but like most of the rest of the economy it’s also clearly moving in the right direction.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Very long POTH piece on Jihadi Girl Power
on: August 17, 2015, 09:16:53 AM
Jihad and Girl Power: How ISIS Lured 3 London Teenagers
By KATRIN BENNHOLDAUG. 17, 2015
Continue reading the main story Video
At Home in London, Girls Chose ISIS
A look into the world of three teenage girls who abandoned their lives in London to join the Islamic State.
By MONA EL-NAGGAR and BEN LAFFIN on Publish Date August 17, 2015. Watch in Times Video »
LONDON — The night before Khadiza Sultana left for Syria she was dancing in her teenage bedroom. It was a Monday during the February school vacation. Her niece and close friend, at 13 only three years younger than Khadiza, had come for a sleepover. The two girls wore matching pajamas and giggled as they gyrated in unison to the beat.
Khadiza offered her niece her room that night and shared a bed with her mother. She was a devoted daughter, particularly since her father had died.
The scene in her bedroom, saved on the niece’s cellphone on Feb. 16 and replayed dozens of times by Khadiza’s relatives since, shows the girl they thought they knew: joyful, sociable, funny and kind.
As it turned out, it was also the carefully choreographed goodbye of a determined and exceptionally bright teenager who had spent months methodically planning to leave her childhood home in Bethnal Green, East London, with two schoolmates and follow the path of another friend who had already traveled to the territory controlled by the Islamic State.
On Tuesday morning, Khadiza got up early and put on the Lacoste perfume both she and her niece liked. She told her mother that she was going to school to pick up some workbooks and spend the day in the library. She grabbed a small day pack and promised to return by 4:30 p.m.
It was only that night that the family realized something was wrong. When Khadiza had not come back by 5:30, her mother asked her oldest sister, Halima Khanom, to message her, but there was no reply. Ms. Khanom drove to the library to look for her sister, but she was not there. She went to the school, but the staff said no student had come in that day.
By the time she came back home, her mother had checked Khadiza’s wardrobe and found that besides some strategically arranged items it was empty. “That’s when I started panicking,” Ms. Khanom, 32, said in a recent interview at the family home. Two tote bags were missing from the house. “She must have taken her things gradually and packed a suitcase somewhere else.”
Early the next morning her family reported Khadiza missing. An hour later, three officers from SO15, the counterterrorism squad of the Metropolitan Police, knocked on the door. “We believe your daughter has traveled to Turkey with two of her friends,” one said.
Even then, Ms. Khanom said, recalling the conversation, “Syria didn’t come into my mind.”
The next time she saw her sister was on the news: Grainy security camera footage showed Khadiza and her two 15-year-old friends, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, calmly passing through security at Gatwick Airport for Turkish Airlines Flight 1966 to Istanbul and later boarding a bus to the Syrian border.
“Only when I saw that video I understood,” Ms. Khanom said.
These images turned the three Bethnal Green girls, as they have become known, into the face of a new, troubling phenomenon: young women attracted to what some experts are calling a jihadi, girl-power subculture. An estimated 4,000 Westerners have traveled to Syria and Iraq, more than 550 of them women and girls, to join the Islamic State, according to a recent report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which helps manage the largest database of female travelers to the region.
The men tend to become fighters much like previous generations of jihadists seeking out battlefields in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. But less is known about the Western women of the Islamic State. Barred from combat, they support the group’s state-building efforts as wives, mothers, recruiters and sometimes online cheerleaders of violence.
Many are single and young, typically in their teens or early 20s (the youngest known was 13). Their profiles differ in terms of socioeconomic background, ethnicity and nationality, but often they are more educated and studious than their male counterparts. Security officials now say they may present as much of a threat to the West as the men: Less likely to be killed and more likely to lose a spouse in combat, they may try to return home, indoctrinated and embittered.
One in four of the women in the Institute for Strategic Dialogue’s database are already widowed. But if women are a strategic asset for the Islamic State, they are hardly ever considered in most aspects of Western counterterrorism.
The Bethnal Green girls, slender teenagers with ready smiles and London accents, were praised by teachers and admired by fellow students at Bethnal Green Academy.
Khadiza, with straight chocolate-colored hair and thick-rimmed glasses, had been singled out as one of the most promising students in her year, according to a letter her mother received after mock exams only weeks before she left. In her bedroom, she kept a copy of a novel that a teacher had given to her with a handwritten dedication inside, dated January 2015: “Well done for working hard and exceeding your target grade for English language.” In her spare time she tutored less gifted peers.
Her bubbly friend Amira was a star athlete and a respected public speaker, once debating the rights of Muslim women to wear the veil. She was a regular at the local library, where she read voraciously. (After her disappearance, when the police went to check the list of books she had borrowed, one title, “Insurgent,” briefly rang alarm bells — until the officer realized that it was part of a popular dystopian teenage trilogy set in Chicago.)
“They were the girls you wanted to be like,” said one 14-year-old from the grade below.
Perhaps that is why everyone failed to respond to the many signs that foreshadowed their dark turn. The families, who noticed the girls’ behavior changing, attributed it to teenage whims; school staff members, who saw their homework deteriorate, failed to inform the parents or intervene; the police, who spoke to the girls twice about their friend who had traveled to Syria, also never notified the parents.
They were smart, popular girls from a world in which teenage rebellion is expressed through a radical religiosity that questions everything around them. In this world, the counterculture is conservative. Islam is punk rock. The head scarf is liberating. Beards are sexy.
Ask young Muslim women in their neighborhood what kind of guys are popular at school these days and they start raving about “the brothers who pray.”
“Girls used to want someone who is good-looking; nowadays girls want Muslims who are practicing,” said Zahra Qadir, 22, who does deradicalization work for the Active Change Foundation, her father’s charity in East London. “It’s a new thing over the last couple of years. A lot of girls want that, even some nonpracticing girls.”
The rows of housing complexes behind Bethnal Green’s main street are home to a deeply conservative Muslim community where the lines between religion and extremism can be blurred, including in at least one of the girls’ families. In this community, the everyday challenges that girls face look very different from those of their male counterparts.
The Islamic State is making a determined play for these girls, tailoring its siren calls to their vulnerabilities, frustrations and dreams, and filling a void the West has so far failed to address.
In post-9/11 austerity Britain, a time when a deep crisis of identity and values has swept the country, fitting in can be harder for Muslim girls than for boys. Buffeted by a growing hostility toward Islam and deep spending cuts that have affected women and young people in working-class communities like their own, they have come to resent the Western freedoms and opportunities their parents sought out. They see Western fashions sexualizing girls from an early age, while Western feminists look at the hijab as a symbol of oppression.
Asked by their families during sporadic phone calls and exchanges on social media platforms why they had run away, the girls spoke of leaving behind an immoral society to search for religious virtue and meaning. In one Twitter message, nine days before they left Britain, Amira wrote: “I feel like I don’t belong in this era.”
Muslim girls generally outperform the boys in school but are kept on a shorter leash at home. Many, like Khadiza, have sisters whose marriages were arranged when they were teenagers. Ms. Khanom, now 32, was 17 when she was wed, just a year older than Khadiza. And they wear head scarves, which identify them as Muslims in often-hostile streets.
In their world, going to Syria and joining the so-called caliphate is a way of “taking control of your destiny,” said Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer who represents the families of the three girls.
“It’s about choice — the most human thing,” Mr. Akunjee said. “These girls are smart, they are A students. When you are smarter than everyone else, you think you can do anything.”
Since they left their homes, bits and pieces have emerged about the three friends revealing a blend of youthful naïveté and determination.
Khadiza’s friend Amira, an acquaintance of the family said, “fell in love with the idea of falling in love.” At one point, she posted the image of a Muslim couple with the caption: “And he created you in pairs.”
Khadiza, by contrast, told her sister in one of the first Instagram conversations after her arrival in Syria: “I’m not here just to get married.”
The Islamic State has proved adept at appealing to different female profiles, using girl-to-girl recruitment strategies, gendered imagery and iconic memes.
As Muslims, the girls would be treated very differently from women and girls of the Yazidi minority, who are taken by the Islamic State as slaves and raped with the justification that they are unbelievers.
The group runs a “marriage bureau” for single Western women. This year, the media wing of Al Khanssaa Brigade, an all-female morality militia, published a manifesto stipulating that women complete their formal education at age 15 and that they can be married as young as 9, but also praising their existence in the Islamic State as “hallowed.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, took a young German woman of Iraqi descent as his third wife and put her in charge of women’s issues in the caliphate, according to information circulating among Islamic State-affiliated social media accounts.
Social media has allowed the group’s followers to directly target young women, reaching them in the privacy of their bedrooms with propaganda that borrows from Western pop culture — images of jihadists in the sunset and messages of empowerment. A recent post linked to an Islamic State account paraphrased a popular L’Oréal makeup ad next to the image of a girl in a head scarf: “COVERed GIRL. Because I’m worth it.”
“It’s a twisted version of feminism,” said Sasha Havlicek, a co-founder and the chief executive of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, who testified about Western women under the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 29.
“For the girls, joining ISIS is a way to emancipate yourself from your parents and from the Western society that has let you down,” Ms. Havlicek said. “For ISIS, it’s great for troop morale because fighters want Western wives. And in the battle of ideas they can point to these girls and say: Look, they are choosing the caliphate over the West.”
In January 2014, one of Khadiza’s best friends, Sharmeena Begum, no relation to Shamima, lost her mother to cancer. Her father soon started courting a woman who would become his second wife.
An only child, Sharmeena was deeply shaken. Until then, she had not been very religious, friends say. “She was barely practicing before,” according to one acquaintance of the family. After her mother died, she started praying regularly and spending more time at the mosque.
But there were signs she was not just turning toward religion for comfort. Bethnal Green Academy is a state-funded secondary school with just over 900 students, the majority of them Muslim. At one point last year, Sharmeena had a heated exchange with a teacher, defending the Islamic State. The teacher, also a Muslim, disagreed, and Sharmeena “flipped out,” a witness said.
Her closest friends started changing, too.
Khadiza stopped wearing trousers and began covering her hair after the summer vacation, at first only in school but gradually at home as well. It was a big change for a girl who “loved” her hair and styled the women in her family on festive occasions.
One day last fall, she asked her older brother Shuyab Alom, a science student who sometimes helped her with homework, what his thoughts were on Syria.
“She asked a very general question as to what I thought about what’s happening over there,” Mr. Alom recalled. “And I said how it was, the fact that it seems that the Syrian regime, you know, the majority of the people oppose the regime.”
Around the same time other friends at school noticed the girls’ lunchtime conversations changing. One friend, whose passport has since been seized because it was feared that she, too, might go to Syria (she denies this), reported a “noticeable” change in attitude.
When Sharmeena’s father remarried in the fall, Khadiza accompanied her to the wedding. Soon after, on Saturday, Dec. 6, Sharmeena disappeared.
“She was vulnerable; she had a trauma,” said Mr. Akunjee, the lawyer, who does not represent Sharmeena’s family but is familiar with her case. “She didn’t get a body piercing or a drug-dealer boyfriend. She went to ISIS.”
Khadiza did not tell her family that Sharmeena had run away. When a school staff member called to inform the family that Khadiza’s friend had “gone missing,” the official did not specify that she was believed to have traveled to Syria, Ms. Khanom, Khadiza’s sister, recalled.
Her mother asked Khadiza regularly whether she had news of her friend. “And she’d be like, ‘Well, I don’t know, I don’t know,’” Ms. Khanom said. “And I thought that was weird.”
Sharmeena’s father, Mohammad Uddin, said he had been surprised that the other girls had not left with his daughter. He told The Daily Mail that he had urged the police and the school to keep a close eye on them, though the police say the formal statement Mr. Uddin gave to them on Feb. 10 — a week before the three girls left — contained no such warning.
At the time, one police officer was charged with getting in touch with the girls, but they were “uncooperative” and did not return his calls and messages. He asked the school to set up meetings with them and four other friends. Two meetings took place, one in the presence of the deputy principal and one with a teacher. But even then, Ms. Khanom said, neither the school nor the police told the families exactly what was going on.
Asked about failing to spot the signs of the girls’ radicalization, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police maintained that there had been no indication during the interviews that any of the girls “were in any way vulnerable or indeed radicalized.”
“There was no indication that any of the girls were at risk of traveling to Syria,” the spokesman said.
On Feb. 5, officers gave letters to the girls, seeking their parents’ permission to take formal statements from them about Sharmeena’s disappearance. But the girls never passed the letters on. Khadiza’s was discovered by her sister hidden in textbooks in her bedroom after they had left.
Ms. Khanom was furious. “I saw the guy who gave her the letter. He said the 15-year-olds were giving him a runaround. And I’m like, ‘You’re supposed to be someone who’s trained in counterterrorism, you know. We don’t understand about 15-year-olds giving you a runaround. How does that work?’”
Eventually, the police issued an apology. The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, said he was sorry that the letters had never reached the parents. A spokesman added: “With the benefit of hindsight, we acknowledge that the letters could have been delivered direct to the parents.”
As the police and the school were keeping Sharmeena’s suspected travel to Syria quiet, Khadiza and her friends began planning to follow in her footsteps.
A Girls’ Pact and Missed Signs
In messy handwriting on a page ripped out of a calendar, the girls made a detailed checklist for their trip: bras, a cellphone, an epilator, makeup and warm clothes, among other things. Next to each item, they noted cost, including just over 1,000 pounds for tickets to Turkey.
Discovered at the bottom of one of the girls’ closets after their departure, the list also appears to contain the handwriting of a fourth girl who had apparently planned to travel but dropped out when her father suffered a stroke. Since then, a judge has confiscated the passports belonging to her, three other students at Bethnal Green Academy and a fifth girl from the neighborhood.
Like other teenagers, the girls were sensitive to peer pressure. They were what Shiraz Maher, a senior fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, called a textbook “cluster,” making the multiple oversights by the school and the police even more surprising.
If one member of a group of friends has gone to Syria, Mr. Maher said, that is a far more reliable predictor of the friends being at risk of going than variables like class or ethnicity. In clusters like the Bethnal Green group, doubts are drowned out and views quickly reinforced.
Mr. Akunjee, the lawyer, said, “From December it is pretty clear that there is a pact between the girls.”
Planning their trip appears to have occupied much of their time. Their homework, diligently completed before Sharmeena’s departure, came back incomplete in the weeks after.
“I’m amazed that the teachers and police missed that,” said Mr. Akunjee, who reviewed the homework. “These are bright girls. Well above average clever. This was a year with exams coming up. Shouldn’t the school have informed the parents?” It is a question the police are asking the school, too.
Khadiza and her friend Amira exchanged many messages on social media. In one post, Amira described the two of them as “twins.” In a Twitter message dated Dec. 20, she posted a hadith on being in a group of three friends: “If you are three (in number), then let not two engage in private, excluding the third.”
Was Amira worried about her two friends speaking without her and questioning their pact to go to Syria? She was perhaps the most active of the three friends on social media, providing glimpses of the gradual radicalization the group underwent.
In her posts, under the name Umm Uthman Britaniya, typical teenage commentary about fashion, school and her favorite soccer club (Chelsea) increasingly mixed with posts inquiring about how to learn Arabic quickly and what behavior is Islamic and what is not.
“Are nose piercings Haram or not?” one of her posts asked on Dec. 30, meaning were they forbidden under Islam. “Connnfuuuusseedddd.” Two weeks later she wrote: “The Prophet (PBUH) cursed those who pluck their eyebrows.”
But far from portraying an increasingly submissive girl, Amira’s Twitter messages featured punchy fist emoticons and empowered language: “Our abaya game” she wrote under a photo of four girls proudly clad in Muslim garb, is “strong.” In January, she wrote about rape: “Hearing these stories of sisters being raped makes me so close to being allergic to men, Wallah.”
Around the same time, Khadiza’s family noticed that she became “more quiet.”
“She spent a lot of time on her iPod,” her sister, Ms. Khanom, recalled. The iPod had been the subject of a dispute between Khadiza and her mother a year earlier. Khadiza had asked for one, but her mother had said no. It took Ms. Khanom to lobby on her behalf.
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On her iPod she received a steady stream of images depicting atrocities against Muslim children, from Syria to Myanmar. Her friend Amira posted and reposted several. One of her posts, a photo of a 3-year-old boy, had the caption: “This always gets to me.”
“Almost every day, I go on Facebook and I’m shown a horrible post somewhere,” Khadiza’s brother, Mr. Alom, said. “Online you have whole pages and groups and accounts dedicated to these sort of things, where they post pictures, they post videos.”
A lot of young Muslims, he said, feel that “Islamophobia is a very prevalent thing.”
“And then a group comes to them and says, like, ‘This is where you come,’ this is where they will be complete. ‘It’s a home for you.’ That appeals to them.”
“Yeah, that’s the main thing,” he continued, “because a lot of people feel that they are out of place to where they are.”
Bethnal Green is only one subway stop from the moneyed towers of the City of London and stretches into the capital’s trendy start-up district. Bearded hipsters are a common sight among the bustling market stalls selling everything from saris to spices.
But four in 10 residents, including Khadiza’s and Shamima’s families, have roots in Bangladesh. (Amira was born in Ethiopia and spent her early childhood in Germany before moving here when she was 11.) A literalist interpretation of Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia has become more mainstream and has combined with a widely shared sense that Muslims across the world suffer injustices in which the West is complicit.
After the girls vanished, it emerged that Amira’s father, Hussen Abase, had been filmed attending an Islamist rally in 2012 organized by a notorious hate preacher, Anjem Choudary, and also attended by Michael Adebowale, one of the two men who hacked a British soldier to death on a London Street in 2013. In the video Mr. Abase, who in March appeared on British television sobbing and cradling his daughter’s teddy bear and begging her to come home, can be seen chanting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) as an American flag was burned nearby.
He occasionally took Amira to marches, too. Among the people she followed on Twitter was Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, who has close links to Mr. Choudary. Both men were charged this month with supporting the Islamic State. Mr. Abase did not respond to an interview request.
“Some parents create the atmosphere for their children,” said Haras Rafiq, the managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremism research center.
As Amira became more vocal on Twitter, Khadiza became more argumentative at home, on occasion scolding her older siblings for acting “un-Islamic” or pressing her niece to disobey her mother.
The last time Ms. Khanom saw her sister was five days before she left. Her cousin Fahmida Abdul Aziz had come over, too. “We were fighting over a bag of Bombay mix,” Ms. Khanom said, referring to a traditional Indian snack. “She loves that. I guess she gets that off my dad, because my dad used to love it, too.”
They were sitting on the living room sofa. “She was in her PJs, you know like a T-shirt and a pajama bottom, and she just literally came, sat herself between the two of us and put her arms around us,” the cousin, Ms. Aziz said, smiling at the memory. “You know, just looked at me and just gave me a cuddle.”
The next day, Khadiza asked that her niece come to stay, but Ms. Khanom, the niece’s mother, said no because it was a school night. Uncharacteristically, she said, Khadiza texted her niece, urging her to disobey: “Just jump on the bus and come.”
That same week, Amira implored her Twitter followers in capital letters: “PRAY ALLAH GRANTS ME THE HIGHEST RANKS IN JANNAH, MAKES ME SINCERE IN MY WORSHIP AND KEEPS ME STEADFAST.” She posted a photo of three girls in black head scarves and abayas in a local park with their backs to the camera, presumably her and her two friends. “Sisters,” the caption reads.
Call Home, Girls
On Feb. 15, just two days before the three girls left, Shamima sent a Twitter message to a prominent Islamic State recruiter from Glasgow, Aqsa Mahmood. The youngest of the three, Shamima is also the most elusive. Little is known about her apart from the fact that she loved to watch “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and traveled to Turkey on the passport of her 17-year-old sister, Aklima.
Ms. Mahmood, who goes by the name of Umm Layth (meaning Mother of the Lion) and provides advice on social media to would-be female migrants, has denied recruiting the girls. But her parents’ lawyer expressed surprise that the security services, believed to be monitoring Ms. Mahmood’s social media accounts, had not reacted to Shamima’s approach.
Khadiza’s family members say it is unlikely that the girls could have raised an estimated 3,000 pounds, or about $4,700, to cover the cost of their trip on their own. The plane tickets alone, police confirmed, cost more than 1,000 pounds and were paid for in cash at a local travel agency.
Unlike their friend who left earlier, Sharmeena, who had an inheritance from her mother, the three girls had no known source of money, raising questions about whether they were recruited and had outside help.
A suggestion by the counterterrorism chief of the Metropolitan Police, Mark Rowley, that the girls might have stolen from the families did not go down well: “I felt like punching them; that was a blatant lie,” Khadiza’s sister said.
“Khadiza took some of her jewelry but nothing expensive,” Ms. Khanom said. She left behind the most precious item she owned, a Swarovski necklace she had gotten for her most recent birthday. She did not touch the money in her sister’s bag in the hallway that morning and took nothing from her mother’s kitty.
“Nothing was missing,” Ms. Khanom said.
The police are still trying to establish whether the girls had help online or from a local recruiter. The trouble, investigators say, is that traveling to a conflict zone is not a crime in Britain, and neither is encouraging or facilitating travel to a conflict zone, unless a terrorist purpose can be proven.
“If a local facilitator is identified, a likelier ground for prosecution might be child abduction,” a senior officer said.
The families’ lawyer is convinced the girls tapped into a shadowy recruitment network embedded in and protected by the community in East London and were then handled “point to point.”
In shaky footage, apparently filmed on a hidden camera near the Syrian border and broadcast on A Haber, a Turkish television network, the girls are seen alongside a man in a maroon hooded sweatshirt. Another man, bearded and bespectacled, is taking bags out of the trunk of one car and helping to load them into another.
“This car,” he seems to tell them in heavily accented English, then apparently directs them to take passports allowing them into Syria.
The girls, who arrived in Turkey on a Tuesday night and were reported missing by early Wednesday, waited 18 hours at a bus station in an Istanbul suburb and crossed into Syria only on Friday. Both the British and the Turkish police have faced accusations of reacting too slowly.
Eventually, the Turkish police arrested a man on allegations that he had helped the teenagers cross the border. The Turkish news agency Dogan said the man had helped several other Britons cross into Syria for a fee between $800 and $1,500.
“This is not a package holiday,” Mr. Akunjee said. “It is a complicated journey.”
He knows this firsthand. One of the first things he did after the families hired him was to travel with relatives of all three girls to Turkey and make a public appeal to the girls to get in touch. The campaign, publicized with the hashtag #callhomegirls, was widely covered in the British press.
“Even I needed fixers to help me set it all up,” said Mr. Akunjee, who knows Turkey well. (He recently negotiated the release of a British girl held hostage by the Nusra Front.) “There is no way the girls did this on their own.”
Khadiza’s sister, Ms. Khanom, was among those who traveled to Turkey. “It was like we were retracing their steps,” she said. When the appeal went out, the families learned that 53 other women and girls were believed to have left Britain for Syria.
“Fifty-three,” Ms. Khanom said. “Where are all these girls?”
The morning after the families returned to London, a message popped up on Ms. Khanom’s Instagram account. Her request to follow her sister, blocked since Khadiza had left for Syria, had been accepted.
Ms. Khanom said she sent Khadiza a private message, asking to let her know that she was safe. Her sister replied and later messaged again, asking about their mother.
“She is on her prayer mat asking Allah to help her find you,” Ms. Khanom wrote.
“I’ll call soon okay,” Khadiza replied.
“She has not been sleeping or eating since you left,” her sister wrote.
“Tell her to eat.”
“She is asking do you not want to see her?”
“Of course I do.”
But Khadiza also seemed suspicious of the families’ trip to Turkey, making Ms. Khanom wonder if it was really her sister messaging her. “It’s just the way of asking questions about what happened in Turkey: Why did I go? Those kind of things. It just felt like, why would she be asking me these questions, you know.”
At one point, Ms. Khanom tested her: “Who is Big Toe?” she asked. Khadiza sent back a “lol” and replied: “Our cousin.”
For a moment it was as if they were back in the same city. “I kind of forgot she’s not here,” Ms. Khanom said.
She asked her sister to keep in touch. Khadiza promised she would, but insisted that it would always be her to initiate contact. “I don’t think she has full freedom,” Ms. Khanom said.
The next day, Khadiza messaged again.
“I asked her, ‘Are you married?’ She goes, ‘You know me too well. I’m not here just to get married to someone,’” Ms. Khanom recalled. Khadiza said she was “considering.”
“What do you mean by considering?” Ms. Khanom recalled asking.
“Looking into getting married,” the reply came.
From these early conversations, and descriptions of the food they were eating — fried chicken, French fries and pizza — the families and authorities concluded that the three girls were in Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, housed in one of several hostels for single women. Khadiza said she was living in a nice house “with chandeliers.”
Ms. Khanom pleaded with her to come home, telling her that the police had assured the families that the girls would not face prosecution.
Khadiza did not believe it. “They’re lying,” she told her sister.
No Way Back?
At Bethnal Green Academy, a school with a fine academic record but now notorious for having four of its students join the Islamic State, the departure of the girls is gingerly referred to as “the incident.”
In the week after they ran away, the principal, Mark Keary, called an assembly. Students were upset, and some teachers cried. But it quickly became clear that this was not a place where the issue of the girls’ departure would be openly discussed. As Mr. Keary put it that same week, it was “business as usual” for the school.
“He brushed over it,” said one girl who had attended the assembly. Teachers have been threatened with dismissal if they speak out publicly, people inside the school said. Mr. Keary declined to comment.
Two weeks after the girls disappeared, the phone rang at the help line of the Active Change Foundation, the organization working on deradicalization and prevention.
It was the father of a student at Bethnal Green Academy. His daughter had overheard a group of girls at lunchtime talking about going to Syria. He said it appeared they were in contact with the girls already there and were planning to join them over the Easter holiday. Hanif Qadir, who runs the charity, informed the local council. On March 20, a judge took away the girls’ passports.
It was an early indication that Khadiza, Amira and Shamima seemed to be settling into life in Raqqa.
Since then, all three girls have married, their families’ lawyer confirmed. They were given a choice between a number of Western men. One chose a Canadian, another a European. Amira married Abdullah Elmir, a former butcher from Australia, who has appeared in several ISIS recruitment videos and has been named “ginger jihadi” for his reddish hair.
All three have moved out of the hostel and live with their husbands. They have sporadic contact with home. The conversations give the impression that the girls have few regrets about leaving their lives in London. But they also hint at hardships like frequent electricity cuts and shortages of Western goods. One recent chat came to an abrupt end because airstrikes were starting.
Khadiza told her sister that she still wanted to become a doctor. There is a medical school in Raqqa, she said. The logo for the Islamic State Health Service mimics the blue-and-white logo of Britain’s treasured National Health Service.
In a recent online exchange on Twitter and Kik with a British tabloid reporter posing as a schoolgirl interested in going to Syria, Amira gave instructions that appeared to track her own experience: She advised the “girl” to tell her parents that she was going for review classes to escape the house, then fly to Turkey and take a bus to Gaziantep, where she could be smuggled across the border. She recommended a travel agent in Brick Lane, a short walk from Bethnal Green Academy, which would accept cash and ask no questions, and suggested taking along bras because “they have the worst bras here.”
She also asked if the would-be recruit would consider becoming a second wife to a Lebanese-Australian, a description fitting her own husband, and appeared to mock a minute of silence for the mostly British victims of a recent shooting in Tunisia for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, with “Looooool,” shorthand for “laugh out loud.”
It is getting harder to know whether it is the girls who are communicating. Increasingly their conversations are interspersed with stock propagandistic phrases.
“Have they adapted that language, or is there someone standing next to them?” Mr. Akunjee asked. “We don’t know. But they’re not the people their families recognize. They’re not them anymore. And how could they be?”
Standing in her sister’s bedroom one recent afternoon Ms. Khanom recalled the girl who had watched “The Princess Diaries” at least four times and loved dancing Zumba in the living room.
Her room is unchanged; perfumes and teenage accessories remain on a small chest. Her exam schedule is still taped to the inside of her closet door: math, statistics, history, English. A checkered scarf, which Khadiza had dropped on the morning of her departure in the hallway outside, is neatly folded on a shelf. It still carries her scent.
There are frames filled with photographs of her sisters and her nephew, as well as her niece, who has taken her departure particularly badly.
“She’s very affected by it, she misses her terribly, Khalummy — that’s what she calls her, Khalummy,” Ms. Khanom said, referring to a Bengali term of endearment for aunt. “You know, sometimes she shows anger, sometimes she thinks that, you know, she could have stopped her that morning. She saw her get ready.”
“I don’t want to say they’re memories because ...,” Ms Khanom said, her eyes traveling across her sister’s things. “They’re memories, but not as if, like ...,” her voice trailing off again. “I hope and I feel she’s going to come back and things are going to go back to normal.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Saudi Arabia and Egypt covet new assault ships.
on: August 17, 2015, 08:03:51 AM
Not sure where to put this one so I put it here:
Saudi Arabia and Egypt Covet New Assault Ships
August 17, 2015 | 09:15 GMT
A Mistral-class warship under construction in Saint-Azaire, France, in December 2014. (JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP Photo)
Saudi Arabia and Egypt want to buy the Mistral vessels France originally agreed to sell to Russia. Stratfor sources in the region have largely confirmed French media reports, indicating that there is at least a preliminary interest in acquiring the vessels. Despite the considerable obstacles that Riyadh and Cairo would have to surmount before they could effectively utilize Mistral-class ships, the vessels could eventually offer these Arab countries increased capability to respond to varying threats in the region.
Saudi Arabia is making considerable efforts to bolster its air and land force capabilities, and now Riyadh appears increasingly focused on investing in its naval forces. The acquisition of potent new ships easily fits within the envisaged Saudi maritime upgrade. Mistrals are flexible amphibious assault platforms that are ideal for the projection of force in littoral waters. In missions of short duration, a battalion — approximately 400-900 troops — can deploy from the Mistral, using landing craft or helicopters. In addition to carrying an infantry-based force, the vessels can be configured to lift significant numbers of vehicles (armored or otherwise) that can deploy by landing craft to a designated landing zone. The helicopter air wing aboard the Mistral can also be configured to the task at hand, with the ability to deploy large numbers of anti-submarine warfare helicopters for sub-hunting missions. However, the vessels have little self-defense capacity and rely on other surface warships to escort them and to provide protection.
There is definitely a requirement for Mistral-type ships in Riyadh's arsenal. The vessels, if correctly manned and equipped, would have been very useful in the Saudi-led coalition's operations in Yemen. It often takes offensive action for an armed force to understand that a capability gap exists, and the ability to project force from sea to shore is critical for a modern military. The Saudis could also benefit from using the vessels in and around the Persian Gulf, especially close to the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs islands. These islands are disputed by Iran as well as the United Arab Emirates, but Riyadh could very rapidly deploy forces from a Mistral to capture terrain.
As Stratfor has noted in the past, Saudi Arabia has a strong desire to set up a joint Arab intervention force to counter threats to individual and collective interests in the region. The U.S. rapprochement with Iran and increased Turkish assertiveness mean that the Saudis are looking to their Arab brethren to reinforce their own military alliance system. As alluded to in the French reports, the Saudis may be interested in procuring the Mistrals as part of the greater joint Arab force project.
Military capabilities alone are not enough to create a viable and effective joint force — that requires strong political will. Indeed, there are several obstacles that work against the success of a joint Arab intervention force, especially one where Riyadh is vying for leadership. The Sunni Arab states, though willing to work closely on occasion, have disparate goals and interests that will continue to undermine their unity. Egypt would likely host the envisaged joint Arab force, and it would make considerable sense to base the Mistrals in Egypt. In this case, one or both of the Mistrals would be docked in Egypt close to the headquarters of the Arab force. Alternatively, one could be stationed in Egypt while the other would be deployed with the Saudi navy. This raises the question, would Cairo be willing to foot the bill for one or both of the Mistrals?
Financing the Purchase
The Egyptians lack money and are principally concerned with countering threats in their immediate locale. Therefore, Cairo would be unlikely to go ahead with any purchase without Saudi financial backing. Assuming the Saudis fund the purchase, the Egyptians would benefit from the considerable prestige of maintaining one or both Mistral vessels within their own fleet. Furthermore, Egypt is involved in a number of regional conflicts where the deployment of a Mistral vessel might be useful, the Libyan conflict being the most obvious example.
While Saudi Arabia may be willing to finance the acquisition of the Mistrals, there are several obstacles that will continue to hamper the Saudis and the Egyptians when it comes to using the equipment. The biggest obstacle is the absence of trained crews to operate the vessels, and even more important, well-trained forces to deploy from the Mistrals. While both Egypt and Saudi Arabia maintain small marine forces, neither nation has previously operated large amphibious assault vessels and will need considerable time and investment to build up the necessary institutional knowledge to use the Mistrals effectively.
Furthermore, procuring the Mistrals is only the first step. The Saudis and Egyptians would still need to purchase the associated specialized helicopters and landing craft that would operate from each Mistral. Additionally, the Mistral vessels in question were specifically built for the Russians, and Riyadh and Cairo will undoubtedly have to refurbish the ships and modify them to suit their own particular command, control, communications and climate requirements.
Despite these constraints, there is a high likelihood that Egypt and Saudi Arabia will purchase the Mistrals. Assuming Riyadh is willing to fund their purchase and associated costs, in time the Egyptians and the Saudis could have a considerable rapid response force ready to deploy from these vessels for missions across the Arab world. That would fit in neatly with the current Saudi-led efforts to create a potent unified Arab force that would help safeguard shared interests across the region.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / FP:
on: August 17, 2015, 07:16:09 AM
Brace and break The Defense Department is finally being allowed to scrub a mission that some military officials never much liked in the first place: stationing two U.S. Army Patriot anti-missile batteries in southern Turkey.
A joint statement by the United States Embassy in Ankara and the Turkish government on Sunday said that the two Patriot batteries and 250 U.S. soldiers will come back to the States in October so that the missile systems can undergo “critical modernization upgrades.” The Patriots -- along with Patriot units from Germany and The Netherlands -- were deployed to Turkey in 2013 to calm Ankara at a time when NATO feared that Turkey was in danger of being hit by ballistic missiles fired by Syrian forces.
But with that threat all but eliminated now that Syrian forces have abandoned the Turkish border region, Pentagon leaders have been eager to bring the batteries home. Patriots are in high demand by commanders across the Middle East and Asia, and the soldiers manning the systems in Turkey had yet to conduct a single mission during the deployment. The timing of the move was a delicate diplomatic issue, however, as the U.S. and Turkey had been working on a deal to get Turkey into the anti-Islamic State fight while allowing U.S. warplanes and drones to begin flying out of Turkish air bases. Once that deal was reached, U.S. officials told their Turkish counterparts about the Patriot redeployment.
As part of the deal, six U.S. F-16 fighter jets and 300 American military personnel have now arrived at Incirlik and have started flying combat missions against the Islamic State in Syria. Germany also announced on Saturday that it was pulling its Patriot battery from Turkey, leaving only a Spanish unit behind. The Spanish system replaced the Dutch battery this year.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / FP:
on: August 17, 2015, 07:14:40 AM
Let the dominoes fall. Launching strikes against Taliban targets has become all but off-limits for the handful of American special operators still working in Afghanistan, FP’s Sean Naylor reports, though commanders have recently added the Islamic State to their shrinking hit list.
The number of missions that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducts in Afghanistan have been slashed in recent months thanks to restrictive new targeting rules which specify that the Taliban can’t be hit unless a specific target poses a direct threat to U.S. interests or allies.
Limiting the strikes against Taliban operatives doesn’t mean that the war is winding down, however. Late last week, a spokesman for the Defense Department said that since January, a staggering 4,302 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed in action along with 8,009 wounded in what has by far been the bloodiest year for Kabul’s security forces since the ouster of the Taliban in 2002. Overall, 13,000 Afghan security forces have been killed over the past three years.
Not all Taliban-related groups are in the clear, however. The Haqqani Network continues to be hunted by JSOC, though only after a thorough scrubbing of of the details of each mission by military leadership. It remains to be seen whether the recent naming of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the network, as the Taliban’s new deputy commander will further complicate JSOC’s ability to target the group.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTAH: CA handling the drought
on: August 16, 2015, 06:57:42 AM
How California Is Winning the Drought
By CHARLES FISHMANAUG. 14, 2015
FOR California, there hasn’t ever been a summer quite like the summer of 2015. The state and its 39 million residents are about to enter the fifth year of a drought. It has been the driest four-year period in California history — and the hottest, too.
Yet by almost every measure except precipitation, California is doing fine. Not just fine: California is doing fabulously.
In 2014, the state’s economy grew 27 percent faster than the country’s economy as a whole — the state has grown faster than the nation every year of the drought.
California has won back every job lost in the Great Recession and set new employment records. In the past year, California created 462,000 jobs — nearly 9,000 a week. No other state came close.
The drought has inspired no Dust Bowl-style exodus. California’s population has grown faster even as the drought has deepened.
More than half the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States come from California farms, and last year, the third growing season of the drought, both farm employment and farm revenue increased slightly.
Amid all the nervous news, the most important California drought story is the one we aren’t noticing. California is weathering the drought with remarkable resilience, because the state has been getting ready for this drought for the past 20 years.
The future of water is going to be turbulent for all of us — not far away, but right where we live; not in some distant decade, but next month or next spring. A sense of water insecurity is coming to many places that have never had a water worry. Here’s what California’s scorching summer of 2015 is showing us: We know what to do. We just have to do it.
Cannon Michael, 43, is a sixth-generation farmer in California’s Central Valley, growing tomatoes, cotton, melons and wheat on 10,000 acres of dirt that were part of the holdings of his great-great-great grandfather Henry Miller, a rancher who was known as the “Cattle King.”
Mr. Michael returned to work the family farm in 1998, and has gradually transformed the mix of crops and how they are grown. In the past 10 years, he has spent $10 million installing drip irrigation on about half the land. When he grows tomatoes using drip hoses that squirt water right below where the plants emerge from the ground, he uses about 35 percent less water per acre than he would with traditional irrigation. But the plants produce more tomatoes — he says that he gets at least 70 percent more tomatoes per 1,000 gallons of water.
Leave a question in the comments with this story or on the Times Opinion Facebook page about water conservation in California. Charles Fishman will respond to a selection next week.
Mr. Michael isn’t an isolated example. He’s part of a trend. Since 1980, the amount of California farmland watered by drip- or micro-irrigation has gone from almost nothing to nearly three million acres, 39 percent of the state’s irrigated fields. In perfect parallel, farmland that is flood-irrigated — using more water to produce less food — has fallen to about 3.5 million acres from more than six million.
California’s urban areas are also slowly transforming themselves. East of Los Angeles is a quietly innovative water district called the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, providing water for just under a million people.
The agency has an aggressive water recycling program, which cleans and resupplies 52 million gallons of water a day for an immediate second use, on farms, in factories and commercial laundries, in recharging the area’s groundwater.
And although it is dozens of miles from the Pacific Ocean, the agency also desalinates water. The Inland Empire sits over an aquifer that has been polluted by a legacy of careless agricultural and human habitation. The desalination process removes chemicals and salt, turning 35 million gallons a day of tainted brine into water at least as clean as tap.
Those techniques expand Inland Empire’s water supply without actually requiring any new water, and they represent the leading edge of an effort in Southern California toward “water independence.” In water terms, California is famously a kind of teeter-totter: Most of the water is in the north, most of the people are in the south, and the water flows to the people.
But across Southern California, the progress is quietly astonishing. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California now supplies roughly 19 million people in six counties, and it uses slightly less water than it did 25 years ago, when it supplied 15 million people. That savings — more than one billion gallons each day — is enough to supply all of New York City.
California’s resilience is fragile. It won’t last another two years, it might not last another year.
And to say that the state is weathering the drought is not to trivialize the damage. This summer’s wildfires — which have killed one firefighter, have already burned more acreage to date than last year’s fires and have destroyed dozens of homes — are just one example.
In the town of East Porterville, in the central part of the state, the drinking wells began to go dry a year ago or more. Many residents rely on bottled water and water distributed at the fire station. Their taps, their toilets, their showers are dry — an astonishing level of deprivation in a state with great wealth.
Farm production numbers look good partly because prices for produce are high. Irrigation water, which comes from surface water sources mostly in the north, is allocated based on history, law and availability. Despite cuts of irrigation water of up to 100 percent, farmers have continued to get water, pumping it from aquifers under their land.
California is the only state in the nation that has never regulated groundwater — farmers are largely free to pump as much as they want, without even tracking what they use. In wet years, pumping well water is generally unnecessary and expensive. In dry years, it’s survival.
In 2014, California farmers were able to substitute groundwater for 77 percent of the irrigation water they did not receive. In 2015, farmers are increasing their pumping by an astonishing one billion gallons a day, but the irrigation cuts are so severe that they will replace only 71 percent of their water.
The farmers are saving themselves now, but they are inflicting long-term damage to the vast underground water supply that is really California’s only remaining water cushion.
What can we learn from California’s resilience in this drought? The first lesson goes back 20 years before it started, when cities began to put conservation measures in place — measures that gradually changed water use and also water attitudes. If cities look at the water they have — rainwater, reservoir water, groundwater, wastewater — as different shades of one water, they quickly realize that there’s no such thing as “storm water” or “wastewater.” It’s all water. You can start giving yourself new water sources quickly by cleaning and reusing the water you’ve already got.
California’s progress has been bumpy. The second lesson is that a drought starkly reveals water absurdities that need to be fixed, often urgently.
How can the largest agricultural economy in the country not require farmers to report how much water they use — and allow them to use groundwater without limit?
In Pleasanton, Calif., recycled water is part of the effort to fight the drought. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
How can the water-starved city of Los Angeles have an elaborate system of drains and pipes to collect the rain that does fall — often in brief, intense torrents — only to discard it in the Pacific instead of storing it?
How can it be that in Sacramento nearly half the homes have no water meters? Residents don’t know how much water they use and can’t see how much they conserve if they want to.
And the third lesson is how to use water insecurity to create its opposite. A drought like this one creates the opportunity to change things — even really big things — that couldn’t be changed without a sudden sense of vulnerability.
Last fall, prodded by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, the California Legislature passed a sweeping groundwater law, taking California from having the least regulated groundwater in the country to being a model. The concept is simple: No community will be allowed to pump more water from the underground aquifers than can refill those aquifers — either naturally, or with human help.
The law is so innovative, it will eventually remake water use across the state, and if other states pay attention, across the nation. The law could inspire new techniques for getting rainwater to refill overtaxed aquifers.
In a similarly future-focused move, San Francisco just passed an ordinance to require that new buildings of a certain size have on-site water recycling systems, and reuse their own wastewater. It’s the first city in the United States with such a requirement.
In May, the water district for all of Southern California decided to use the drought to change attitudes about lawns. It increased funding more than fivefold for a program that gives rebates to homeowners who replace their lawns with desert-appropriate landscaping. Las Vegas helped pioneer such “cash for grass” programs as a water-saving technique, removing 170 million square feet of turf — thousands of lawns — since 1999.
The response in Southern California, where $340 million was allocated for the program, stunned even experienced water managers. After five weeks, all the rebate money had been spoken for. The amount of turf set to be removed: about the same square footage that Las Vegas needed 16 years to take out.
For a century, California has pioneered innovations that have changed the way we all live. Without much fanfare, the state is doing that again, with water, moving to make standard what has been novel. A lawn landscaped with rocks and cactus instead of turf, morning coffee brewed matter-of-factly with recycled water, cities designed to return rainwater to the ground — these aren’t just symbols, they are how you handle water when you understand its value.
One of the wonderful ironies of water is that the more attention you pay to it, the less you have to worry about it. By the drought of 2045, the way California uses water will have been transformed again. Just as powerfully, the way ordinary Californians regard water will have been transformed. More than any water conservation practice in particular, it’s that attitude that will save the state — and the rest of us, as well.
Charles Fishman is the author of “The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Letter in WSJ: 60% exclusion on Capital Gains rate
on: August 16, 2015, 06:43:21 AM
Earlier Capital Gains Rate Had an Exclusion
Until the Reagan tax reform there was a 60% deduction or exclusion before the tax was applied
August 15, 2015
None of the letters (Aug. 3) responding to your editorial “Hillary’s Capital ‘Lock In’” (July 27) mention that until the Reagan tax reform there was a 60% deduction or exclusion before the tax was applied. The Reagan tax reform, as I recall, didn’t eliminate the deduction per se, but rather reduced it to zero so the law and regulatory language stayed in place should there have been a subsequent change to the tax law to reinstate some percentage deduction.
Consequently, whatever the tax rate was, it was only applied to 40% of the gain (or rearranging the equation, the capital gains tax rate was effectively only 40% of what the nominal rate was, e.g., 40% of 28% is 11.2%).
A large reason for the exclusion was to take into account things like inflation and the wish to not adversely impact wealth accumulation.
Gary W. Miller
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: All the Secretary's Women
on: August 16, 2015, 06:35:41 AM
Review & Outlook
All the Secretary’s Women
The Clinton email cover up keeps unraveling, thanks to the courts.
Aug. 13, 2015 7:37 p.m. ET
Hillary Clinton has made a career of stiff-arming Congress, inspectors general and the press. So it looks like it’s up to the courts and law enforcement to get to the bottom of her email scandal.
That’s the real meaning of this week’s news in the email case, as the Clinton stonewall becomes harder to sustain. Mrs. Clinton is turning over to the FBI the private server she used to conduct government business while Secretary of State, as well as three thumb drives containing her government-related email. The Clinton campaign won’t say she did this voluntarily, or in response to an FBI demand. And the FBI won’t say why it sought the server. But the handover follows news that top-secret information traveled across her private system, despite her previous denials.
Meanwhile, federal Judge Emmet Sullivan has now verified that Mrs. Clinton will not certify that she has handed over to the State Department all of her work-related records. Two of her closest aides are also dodging Judge Sullivan’s request to hand over their work-related documents to State, and we now know that one of Mrs. Clinton’s aides was using the unsecured Clinton system for government work.
Judge Sullivan is overseeing a Freedom of Information Act case brought in 2013 by Judicial Watch. The watchdog group sought documents relating to the employment of Huma Abedin, who was allowed to work outside the government even as she served as a top Clinton State Department aide. State told Judicial Watch in 2014 it had turned over everything relevant, and the group then dropped its lawsuit.
But the news of previously undisclosed Clinton emails convinced Judge Sullivan in June to take the rare step of reopening the Abedin case. To ascertain whether State was finally searching through every record, he ordered State on July 31 to request that Mrs. Clinton and two of her aides—Ms. Abedin and Cheryl Mills—confirm under penalty of perjury that they had produced all government records in their possession, and that they describe their use of Mrs. Clinton’s server for government business. That response deadline was last Friday.
Mrs. Clinton’s reaction to the deadline was a classic. “While I do not know what information may be ‘responsive’ for purposes of this law suit, I have directed that all my emails on clintonemail.com in my custody, that were or potentially were federal records be provided to the Department of State, and on information and belief, this has been done,” she wrote in a declaration submitted to the court. Translation: If everything wasn’t turned over, it’s not her fault.
But her declaration to the court did disclose that Mrs. Abedin had an “account” on Mrs. Clinton’s server “which was used at times for government business.” The admission that her aides were also using her server demolishes Mrs. Clinton’s previous claim that she used this server for personal “convenience.” She was really running a parallel mini-State email operation.
Both aides were also supposed to submit declarations that they had turned over all government records to the State Department. Instead, they blew off Judge Sullivan and directed their attorneys to explain that they are still searching their private records and in time will get around to supplying them. This is remarkable given that State first requested they turn over any work-related records in March.
Mrs. Clinton and her lawyers have been careful to never use the word “delete” regarding her emails. Mrs. Clinton said that she “chose not to keep” her yoga diary and the rest. Her lawyer, David Kendall, has said emails no longer exist on the server. But do those emails still exist in another location—on a hard drive or thumb drive—or in someone else’s possession? The FBI has the forensic ability to retrieve the emails if they still exist, assuming that the agency isn’t merely going through the pro-forma motions.
Keep in mind that none of this would have happened without Judge Sullivan enforcing the freedom-of-information law. Credit as well goes to federal Judge Rudolph Contreras for ordering the State Department to start producing the Clinton records, and to federal Judge Richard Leon for rapping State over its delays producing the emails. Congressman Trey Gowdy’s House committee on Benghazi has also been indispensable in pressing the server issue.
The Clinton campaign released two memos to its supporters this week, telling them to calm down, the email storm is merely the Republican attack machine at work, and Mrs. Clinton is still beating GOP candidates head to head in the polls. If they can tough it out until Election Day, they think they’ll win.
But the federal judiciary isn’t partisan, and the real lesson from the email fiasco is that this is how the Clintons act when they’re in power. They play by their own rules, and when they’re caught they stonewall and obfuscate and blame it all on partisanship. Maybe her sinking poll numbers mean that voters are finally catching on.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: FCC reifies our fears
on: August 16, 2015, 06:24:51 AM
Aug. 14, 2015 6:43 p.m. ET
Imagine if Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg had been obliged to ask bureaucrats in Washington if it was OK to launch the iPhone, Gmail, or Facebook ’s forthcoming Oculus virtual-reality service. Ridiculous, right? Not anymore.
A few days before the Independence Day holiday weekend, the Federal Communications Commission announced what amounts to a system of permission slips for the Internet. The agency said its July 2 public notice would help firms understand how its comprehensive and controversial Open Internet Order—which subjects the dynamic world of broadband, mobile, content, cloud and apps to public-utility oversight—will be applied in practice.
The new public notice, outlining the “Open Internet Advisory Opinion Procedures” turns upside down the historical presumption that Internet firms are free to innovate.
In February, when the FCC voted 3-2 to adopt the 400-page Open Internet Order, critics said it was intrusive, overly broad and ambiguous. The fear was that arbitrary judgments and legal uncertainty could chill the feverish pace of digital innovation.
And a feverish pace it is. In the week before the Open Internet Order’s initial rules went into effect in June, Apple launched its new music streaming service. Amazon revealed it is building an ambitious new online videogame. Google began offering nearly unlimited free storage of photos and videos, and it advanced its planning for “app streaming” from the cloud. Oculus unveiled its new Rift virtual-reality headset, a platform that will generate massive multimedia traffic on the Internet.
The FCC said its Open Internet Order regulations are needed to prevent Internet Service Providers from “blocking” and “throttling” content. But the evidence says the previous regime of Internet freedom was a rousing success. The U.S. today rules the world in mobile innovation and generates two to three times more Internet data traffic per capita than most advanced nations.
The market value of seven American technology firms—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Oracle, Intel and Microsoft —totals $2.3 trillion, more than the entire stock markets of Germany or Australia. How long will this last if companies have to wait for FCC gatekeepers to prejudge the next wave of innovative digital products before consumers get to decide if they have value?
As the FCC begins to issue guidance and enforcement actions, it’s becoming clearer that critics who feared there would be significant legal uncertainty were right. Under its new “transparency” rule, for example, the agency on June 17 conjured out of thin air an astonishing $100 million fine against AT&T, even though the firm explained its mobile-data plans on its websites and in numerous emails and texts to customers.
The FCC’s new “Internet Conduct Standard,” meanwhile, is no standard at all. It is an undefined catchall for any future behavior the agency doesn’t like. And that’s where the advisory opinions on the legality of new products and services come in. The advisory opinions are an attempt to clarify what the Conduct Standard means. Yet the Conduct Standard is vague and open-ended, while advisory requests from firms must be specific and based on real products.
“A proposed course of conduct for which an advisory opinion is sought,” the FCC guidelines state, “must be sufficiently concrete and detailed so as to be more than merely hypothetical; it must be sufficiently defined to enable the Bureau to conduct an in-depth evaluation of the proposal. In addition, the Bureau will not respond to requests for opinions that relate to ongoing or prior conduct.”
And so, to request an advisory opinion, a firm must launch a project, making it “concrete,” not “hypothetical.” But the product or technology must also not be “ongoing.” At what point does a hypothetical product become concrete, and at what point does a concrete product become ongoing? And because the advisory opinions—and the “detailed” requests—will be public, won’t entrepreneurs and corporations worry about revealing proprietary information and strategies?
Large broadband firms may be able to navigate the new “advisory opinion” world, at least from a legal perspective. As with most regulation, however, smaller entrepreneurs will have a tougher time. Because the Internet relies on so many complementary and competitive relationships among network and content firms of all sizes, the overall effect is likely to slow experimentation.
Already, the rules are beginning to tip the scales toward some network firms but away from others. With FCC support, Netflix has signed new deals for free or near-free bandwidth from Time Warner Cable, AT&T and others. But sponsored data plans from Facebook, Pandora and Spotify—where the content firm pays the consumer’s charges—are under suspicion and the FCC has said it would scrutinize them. Groups like the New America Foundation are calling for the prohibition of broadband data limits, which are currently ubiquitous in mobile plans. If data plans with limits are banned, the casual user who checks his emails a couple of times a day will subsidize the round-the-clock videogame player.
From the beginning, Internet pioneers operated in an environment of “permissionless innovation.” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler now insists that “it makes sense to have somebody watching over their shoulder and ready to jump in if necessary.” But the agency is jumping in to demand that innovators get permission before they offer new services to consumers. The result will be less innovation.
Mr. Swanson, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is president of Entropy Economics LLC, which advises investors and Internet firms.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, deficit, and budget process
on: August 16, 2015, 06:19:48 AM
And only Chris Christie is talking about reigning in entitlements , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, deficit, and budget process
on: August 15, 2015, 11:10:29 PM
The WE piece you post says "U.S. government debt stands at $210 trillion, not the official $13.1 trillion".
Ummm , , , aren't we at $18+T?
A strange error to make , , ,
Still, of course I get the point about unfunded liabilities-- and it is quite valid-- but without a proper grasp of the numbers it is hard to know how accurate they are.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Former US AG Mukasey on the laws that Hillary broke
on: August 15, 2015, 08:57:53 PM
Clinton Defies the Law and Common Sense
The question of whether Hillary Clinton’s emails were marked top secret isn’t legally relevant. Any cabinet member should know that.
Michael B. Mukasey
Aug. 14, 2015 6:49 p.m. ET
Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct public business while serving as secretary of state, followed by the deletion of information on that server and the transfer to her lawyer of a thumb drive containing heretofore unexplored data, engages several issues of criminal law—but the overriding issue is one of plain common sense.
Let’s consider the potentially applicable criminal laws in order of severity.
It is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than a year to keep “documents or materials containing classified information . . . at an unauthorized location.” Note that it is the information that is protected; the issue doesn’t turn on whether the document or materials bear a classified marking. This is the statute under which David Petraeus—former Army general and Central Intelligence Agency director—was prosecuted for keeping classified information at home. Mrs. Clinton’s holding of classified information on a personal server was a violation of that law. So is transferring that information on a thumb drive to David Kendall, her lawyer.
Moving up the scale, the law relating to public records generally makes it a felony for anyone having custody of a “record or other thing” that is “deposited with . . . a public officer” to “remove” or “destroy” it, with a maximum penalty of three years. Emails are records, and the secretary of state is a public officer and by statute their custodian.
The Espionage Act defines as a felony, punishable by up to 10 years, the grossly negligent loss or destruction of “information relating to the national defense.” Note that at least one of the emails from the small random sample taken by the inspector general for the intelligence community contained signals intelligence and was classified top secret.
To be sure, this particular email was turned over, but on paper rather than in its original electronic form, without the metadata that went with it. If other emails of like sensitivity are among the 30,000 Mrs. Clinton erased, that is yet more problematic. The server is now in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose forensic skills in recovering data in situations like this are unexcelled.
The highest step in this ascending scale of criminal penalties—20 years maximum—is reached by anyone who destroys “any record, document or tangible object with intent to impede, obstruct or influence the proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States . . . or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter.”
So, for example, if Mrs. Clinton caused to be wiped out emails that might have been anticipated to be of interest to a congressional committee, such conduct would come within the sweep of the statute. That, by the way, is the obstruction-of-justice statute, as revised by the Sarbanes-Oxley law, passed by Congress in 2002 while Mrs. Clinton served as a senator, and for which she voted.
All of this is not to suggest that Mrs. Clinton is in real danger of going to jail any time soon. All of these laws require at least knowing conduct, and the obstruction statute requires specific intent to impede at least a contemplated proceeding. It is not helpful to Mrs. Clinton’s cause that the emails finally turned over to the State Department were in paper rather than electronic form, which makes it impossible to search them—and easier to alter them—and would thus tend to impede rather than advance a congressional investigation.
Further, we won’t know whether permanent damage was done by the email erasure unless someone manages to examine the thumb drive in the possession of Mr. Kendall. The actual erasure of material appears to have been done by one or more of Mrs. Clinton’s aides, and we can certainly expect some or all of them to dive, if not be thrown, under the bus. Nonetheless, these statutes serve at least to measure the severity with which the law views the conduct here.
The common-sense issues in this matter are more problematic than the criminal ones. Anyone who enters the Situation Room at the White House, where Mrs. Clinton was photographed during the Osama bin Laden raid, is required to place any personal electronic device in a receptacle outside the room, lest it be activated involuntarily and confidential communications disclosed.
Mrs. Clinton herself, in a now famous email, cautioned State Department employees not to conduct official business on personal email accounts. The current secretary of state, John Kerry, testified that he assumes that his emails have been the object of surveillance by hostile foreign powers. It is inconceivable that the nation’s senior foreign-relations official was unaware of the risk that communications about this country’s relationships with foreign governments would be of particular interest to those governments, and to others.
It is no answer to say, as Mrs. Clinton did at one time, that emails were not marked classified when sent or received. Of course they were not; there is no little creature sitting on the shoulders of public officials classifying words as they are uttered and sent. But the laws are concerned with the sensitivity of information, not the sensitivity of the markings on whatever may contain the information.
The culture in Washington, particularly among senior-executive officials, is pervasively risk-averse, and has been for some time. When I took office as U.S. attorney general in 2007, members of my staff saw to it that I stopped carrying a BlackBerry, lest I inadvertently send confidential information over an insecure network or lest it be activated, without my knowledge, and my communications monitored.
When I attended my first briefing in a secure facility, and brought a pad to take notes, my chief of staff leaned over and wrote in bold capital letters at the top of the first page, “TS/SCI,” meaning Top Secret, Secure Compartmentalized Information—which is to say, information that may be looked at only in what is known as a SCIF, a Secure, Compartmentalized Information Facility. My office was considered a SCIF; my apartment was not.
The point he was making by doing that—and this is just the point that seems to have eluded the former secretary of state—is one of common sense: Once you assume a public office, your communications about anything having to do with your job are not your personal business or property. They are the public’s business and the public’s property, and are to be treated as no different from communications of like sensitivity.
That something so obvious could have eluded Mrs. Clinton raises questions about her suitability both for the office she held and for the office she seeks.
Mr. Mukasey served as U.S. attorney general (2007-09) and as a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York (1988-2006).
Popular on WSJ
This latest scam of the Clintons makes their 90s WH quid pro quo look like–if you’ll pardon the oxymoron–penny ante treason.
While the missus was SoS, the couple pocketed billions. The multifarious vectors of transaction &the massive, disproportionate Clinton gains are prima facie evidence of the crime. Why else would so many pay so much for so little?
The clintons' appetite for money&power is insatiable. Like laboratory rats, put enough of the goodies in front of these 2&they will gorge themselves to death.
The Clintons have a long history of selling out America to the enemy, often in plain sight. For 8yrs, they methodically, seditiously& w/ impunity auctioned off our security, sovereignty&economy to the highest foreign bidder…&they are selling us out in plain sight today…which explains why Mrs Clinton chose to scrub the server & risk being charged w/ obstruction. The alternative is a capital offense.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, deficit, and budget process
on: August 15, 2015, 08:37:48 PM
Forgive me the quibble with your hyperbole, but proportionally we are not even close to being the brokest nation in history. For example, doesn't Japan have a debt/GDP ratio of something like 245%?
Anyway, if my math is correct, current numbers mean a very slight decline in debt/GDP ratio.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The NSA and Ma Bell real good buddies
on: August 15, 2015, 08:01:47 PM
Did Pravda on the Hudson really need to reveal that the NSA is listening in to everyone at the UN?
The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.
While it has been long known that American telecommunications companies worked closely with the spy agency, newly disclosed N.S.A. documents show that the relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and especially productive. One document described it as “highly collaborative,” while another lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.”
AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the documents, which date from 2003 to 2013. AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.
These National Security Agency documents shed new light on the agency’s relationship through the years with American telecommunications companies. They show how the agency’s partnership with AT&T has been particularly important, enabling it to conduct surveillance, under several different legal rules, of international and foreign-to-foreign Internet communications that passed through network hubs on American soil.
The N.S.A.’s top-secret budget in 2013 for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next-largest such program, according to the documents. The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon. And its engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the eavesdropping agency.
One document reminds N.S.A. officials to be polite when visiting AT&T facilities, noting, “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”
The documents, provided by the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden, were jointly reviewed by The New York Times and ProPublica. The N.S.A., AT&T and Verizon declined to discuss the findings from the files. “We don’t comment on matters of national security,” an AT&T spokesman said.
It is not clear if the programs still operate in the same way today. Since the Snowden revelations set off a global debate over surveillance two years ago, some Silicon Valley technology companies have expressed anger at what they characterize as N.S.A. intrusions and have rolled out new encryption to thwart them. The telecommunications companies have been quieter, though Verizon unsuccessfully challenged a court order for bulk phone records in 2014.
At the same time, the government has been fighting in court to keep the identities of its telecom partners hidden. In a recent case, a group of AT&T customers claimed that the N.S.A.’s tapping of the Internet violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. This year, a federal judge dismissed key portions of the lawsuit after the Obama administration argued that public discussion of its telecom surveillance efforts would reveal state secrets, damaging national security.
The N.S.A. documents do not identify AT&T or other companies by name. Instead, they refer to corporate partnerships run by the agency’s Special Source Operations division using code names. The division is responsible for more than 80 percent of the information the N.S.A. collects, one document states.
Fairview is one of its oldest programs. It began in 1985, the year after antitrust regulators broke up the Ma Bell telephone monopoly and its long-distance division became AT&T Communications. An analysis of the Fairview documents by The Times and ProPublica reveals a constellation of evidence that points to AT&T as that program’s partner. Several former intelligence officials confirmed that finding.
A Fairview fiber-optic cable, damaged in the 2011 earthquake in Japan, was repaired on the same date as a Japanese-American cable operated by AT&T. Fairview documents use technical jargon specific to AT&T. And in 2012, the Fairview program carried out the court order for surveillance on the Internet line, which AT&T provides, serving the United Nations headquarters. (N.S.A. spying on United Nations diplomats has previously been reported, but not the court order or AT&T’s involvement. In October 2013, the United States told the United Nations that it would not monitor its communications.)
The documents also show that another program, code-named Stormbrew, has included Verizon and the former MCI, which Verizon purchased in 2006. One describes a Stormbrew cable landing that is identifiable as one that Verizon operates. Another names a contact person whose LinkedIn profile says he is a longtime Verizon employee with a top-secret clearance.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, AT&T and MCI were instrumental in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping programs, according to a draft report by the N.S.A.’s inspector general. The report, disclosed by Mr. Snowden and previously published by The Guardian, does not identify the companies by name but describes their market share in numbers that correspond to those two businesses, according to Federal Communications Commission reports.
AT&T began turning over emails and phone calls “within days” after the warrantless surveillance began in October 2001, the report indicated. By contrast, the other company did not start until February 2002, the draft report said.
In September 2003, according to the previously undisclosed N.S.A. documents, AT&T was the first partner to turn on a new collection capability that the N.S.A. said amounted to a “ ‘live’ presence on the global net.” In one of its first months of operation, the Fairview program forwarded to the agency 400 billion Internet metadata records — which include who contacted whom and other details, but not what they said — and was “forwarding more than one million emails a day to the keyword selection system” at the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. Stormbrew was still gearing up to use the new technology, which appeared to process foreign-to-foreign traffic separate from the post-9/11 program.
In 2011, AT&T began handing over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the N.S.A. after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” according to an internal agency newsletter. This revelation is striking because after Mr. Snowden disclosed the program of collecting the records of Americans’ phone calls, intelligence officials told reporters that, for technical reasons, it consisted mostly of landline phone records.
That year, one slide presentation shows, the N.S.A. spent $188.9 million on the Fairview program, twice the amount spent on Stormbrew, its second-largest corporate program.
After The Times disclosed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program in December 2005, plaintiffs began trying to sue AT&T and the N.S.A. In a 2006 lawsuit, a retired AT&T technician named Mark Klein claimed that three years earlier, he had seen a secret room in a company building in San Francisco where the N.S.A. had installed equipment.
Mr. Klein claimed that AT&T was providing the N.S.A. with access to Internet traffic that AT&T transmits for other telecom companies. Such cooperative arrangements, known in the industry as “peering,” mean that communications from customers of other companies could end up on AT&T’s network.
After Congress passed a 2008 law legalizing the Bush program and immunizing the telecom companies for their cooperation with it, that lawsuit was thrown out. But the newly disclosed documents show that AT&T has provided access to peering traffic from other companies’ networks.
AT&T’s “corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and I.S.P.s,” or Internet service providers, one 2013 N.S.A. document states.
Because of the way the Internet works, intercepting a targeted person’s email requires copying pieces of many other people’s emails, too, and sifting through those pieces. Plaintiffs have been trying without success to get courts to address whether copying and sifting pieces of all those emails violates the Fourth Amendment.
Many privacy advocates have suspected that AT&T was giving the N.S.A. a copy of all Internet data to sift for itself. But one 2012 presentation says the spy agency does not “typically” have “direct access” to telecoms’ hubs. Instead, the telecoms have done the sifting and forwarded messages the government believes it may legally collect.
“Corporate sites are often controlled by the partner, who filters the communications before sending to N.S.A.,” according to the presentation. This system sometimes leads to “delays” when the government sends new instructions, it added.
The companies’ sorting of data has allowed the N.S.A. to bring different surveillance powers to bear. Targeting someone on American soil requires a court order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. When a foreigner abroad is communicating with an American, that law permits the government to target that foreigner without a warrant. When foreigners are messaging other foreigners, that law does not apply and the government can collect such emails in bulk without targeting anyone.
AT&T’s provision of foreign-to-foreign traffic has been particularly important to the N.S.A. because large amounts of the world’s Internet communications travel across American cables. AT&T provided access to the contents of transiting email traffic for years before Verizon began doing so in March 2013, the documents show. They say AT&T gave the N.S.A. access to “massive amounts of data,” and by 2013 the program was processing 60 million foreign-to-foreign emails a day.
Because domestic wiretapping laws do not cover foreign-to-foreign emails, the companies have provided them voluntarily, not in response to court orders, intelligence officials said. But it is not clear whether that remains the case after the post-Snowden upheavals.
“We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person’s life is in danger and time is of the essence,” Brad Burns, an AT&T spokesman, said. He declined to elaborate.
Correction: August 15, 2015
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated the number of emails the National Security Agency has gotten access to with the cooperation of AT&T. As the article correctly noted, it is in the billions, not trillions.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2016 Presidential
on: August 15, 2015, 08:21:01 AM
"Sure, we've got a lot of reasons to be angry. But the country is in a very Dark-Side-of-the-Force mood, convinced that anger is empowering, not blinding. At some point, a person enveloped in relentless, fiery anger and grievances stops making sense to anyone else. When a movement's philosophy is so easily summarized by 'GFY,' it's hard to believe they're being unfairly 'bashed.'" —Jim Geraghty
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, deficit, and budget process
on: August 15, 2015, 07:39:40 AM
To a certain extent you are correct, yes it does.
Yet if the economy grows at 2% and the deficit is 2% at GDP, doesn't that imply a decline over time to the debt/GDP ratio?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Prager: What kids now learn in college
on: August 15, 2015, 07:35:56 AM
What Kids Now Learn in College
Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012
As high school seniors throughout America will be receiving acceptance letters to colleges within the next month, it would be nice for parents to meditate on what they are getting for the $20-$50,000 they will pay each year.
The United States is no better than any other country, and in many areas worse than many. On the world stage, America is an imperialist country, and domestically it mistreats its minorities and neglects its poor, while discriminating against non-whites.
There is no better and no worse in literature and the arts. The reason universities in the past taught Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Bach rather than, let us say, Guatemalan poets, Sri Lankan musicians, and Native American storytellers was “Eurocentrism.”
God is at best a non-issue, and at worst, a foolish and dangerous belief.
Christianity is largely a history of inquisitions, crusades, oppression, and anti-intellectualism. Islam, on the other hand, is “a religion of peace.” Therefore, criticism of Christianity is enlightened, while criticism of Islam is Islamophobia.
Israel is a racist state, morally no different from apartheid South Africa.
Big government is the only humane way to govern a country.
The South votes Republican because it is still racist and the Republican party caters to racists.
Mothers and fathers are interchangeable. Claims that married mothers and fathers are the parental ideal and bring unique things to a child are heterosexist and homophobic.
Whites can be racist; non-whites cannot be (because whites have power and the powerless cannot be racist).
The great world and societal battles are not between good and evil, but between rich and poor and the powerful and the powerless.
Patriotism is usually a euphemism for chauvinism.
War is ignoble. Pacifism is noble.
Human beings are animals. They differ from “other animals” primarily in having better brains.
We live in a patriarchal society, which is injurious to women.
Women are victims of men.
Blacks are victims of whites.
Latinos are victims of Anglos.
Muslims are victims of non-Muslims.
Gays are victims of straights.
Big corporations are bad. Big unions are good.
There is no objective meaning to a text. Every text only means what the reader perceives it to mean.
The American Founders were sexist, racist slaveholders whose primary concern was preserving their wealthy status.
The Constitution says what progressives think it should say.
The American dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima was an act of racism and a war crime. The wealthy have stacked the capitalist system to maintain their power and economic benefits.
The wealthy Western nations became wealthy by exploiting Third World nations through colonialism and imperialism.
Defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman is as immoral as defining marriage as the union of a white and a white.
If this list is accurate – and that may be confirmed by visiting a college bookstore and seeing what books are assigned by any given instructor – most American parents and/or their child are going into debt in order to support an institution that for four years, during the most impressionable years of a person’s life, instills values that are the opposite of those of their parents.
And that is intentional.
As Woodrow Wilson, progressive president of Princeton University before becoming president of the United States, said in a speech in 1914, “I have often said that the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.”
In 1996, in his commencement address to the graduating seniors of Dartmouth College, the then president of the college, James O. Freedman, cited the Wilson quote favorably. And in 2002, in another commencement address, Freedman said that “the purpose of a college education is to question your father’s values.”
For Wilson, Freedman, and countless other university presidents, the purpose of a college education is to question (actually, reject) one’s father’s values, not to seek truth. Fathers represented traditional American values. The university is there to undermine them.
Still want to get into years of debt?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Newt on Sen. Bernie Sanders
on: August 14, 2015, 09:49:39 PM
Take Bernie Sanders Seriously
Originally published at the Washington Times
It is time to take Bernie Sanders seriously. It is increasingly possible that the 73-year-old socialist from Vermont could be a real contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
For months observers have scoffed at the idea.
Now we have a poll in New Hampshire which shows Sanders ahead of Hillary Clinton by 44 to 37.
Granted, New Hampshire is next to Vermont. Granted, it is only one poll.
In March, however, Sanders had 8 percent to Clinton's 44 percent. Clinton appeared to be among the most inevitable nominees ever for a non-incumbent.
This is quite a turnaround.
Furthermore, in the same period that Sanders overtook Clinton in New Hampshire, we learned that Clinton had been subpoenaed and forced to turn her email server over to the FBI. The very stories of corruption, sloppiness, and arrogance which have been dragging down her campaign for months are guaranteed to continue. Every day there is another example of Clinton problems.
Sanders, however, is much more than simply the anti-Clinton candidate. This week he drew a crowd of more than 27,000 people in Los Angeles. That is extraordinary.
The reason has less to do with Clinton than with the large and growing left-wing of the Democratic Party which dislikes compromise, Wall Street, big money, and politics as usual. As Matt Bai reported in his brilliant book The Argument, the Democrats have a powerful anti-war, hard-line environmentalist, social activist wing that helped defeat Clinton in 2008.
Bernie Sanders is a genuine socialist and that makes his messages very clear and very direct.
Sanders also has been a practicing politician for a long time. As Mark Steyn has noted, Sanders has spent years building a political machine as a socialist without a party or a large interest group to back him.
As a student, Sanders was a member of the Young People's Socialist League. He began running for public office more than 40 years ago. Finally, in 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont. As mayor of the state’s largest city he had a base on which to build his career. In 1990, he defeated a Republican to become Vermont’s lone congressman. Since Vermont has only one representative, the district is the same as a Senate seat. In 2006, after 16 years in the House, Sanders won the Senate seat.
This is a man who has been winning elections for 34 years. He is serious, energetic and determined.
He is also a good organizer.
As the Washington Post reports, he has been using the internet to build amazing crowds.
In three days he had 70,000 supporters show up in three west coast states, a long way from Vermont and New Hampshire.
He is doing all of this without spending much money.
And as Hillary Clinton gets weaker, he is getting stronger.
The left wing of the Democratic Party is not afraid to nominate a socialist. The left wing of the Democratic Party is socialist.
Everyone should realize that with six more months of Clinton corruption and confusion and six more months of pleasant, steady, and positive ideas from Bernie, the Democrats could easily find themselves on the edge of nominating a self-described socialist for President.
By then it may be too late for someone else to compete.
The last time this happened to the Democrats, they nominated George McGovern even though Hubert Humphrey and others tried to step in at the last minute.
The time to take Sanders seriously is now.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dr. Ben responds to fetal research accusations
on: August 14, 2015, 09:26:39 PM
I wanted to use our time tonight to directly deal with an attack launched on me today by the left and the media. A couple questions came in on this subject, so I want to address it head on.
Today I was accused by the press as having done research on fetal tissue. It simply is not true. The study they distributed by an anonymous source was done in 1992. The study was about tumors. I won’t bore you with the science. There were four doctors' names on the study. One was mine. I spent my life studying brain tumors and removing them. My only involvement in this study was supplying tumors that I had removed from my patients. Those tissue samples were compared to other tissue samples under a microscope. Pathologists do this work to gain clues about tumors.
I, nor any of the doctors involved with this study, had anything to do with abortion or what Planned Parenthood has been doing. Research hospitals across the country have microscope slides of all kinds of tissue to compare and contrast. The fetal tissue that was viewed in this study by others was not collected for this study.
I am sickened by the attack that I, after having spent my entire life caring for children, had something to do with aborting a child and harvesting organs. My medical specialty is the human brain and even I am amazed at what it is capable of doing. Please know these attacks are pathetic attempts to blunt our progress.
Now lets get to answering your questions.
Nancy in Arkansas wants to know how my mother is doing.
Nancy, you know my mother is the only reason I stand here today. I surely would have been lost if it were not for her. She is an amazing woman. If she were the Secretary of Treasury, I assure you we would have a surplus. My mother was very ill when I announced my candidacy. The family was called in by her doctors. We surrounded her and prayed as did millions of you. She began to eat again. She has her strength back. She is doing as well as we can expect. Thank you for asking.
The next question is from Bill. He wanted to know if it was true that I was offered a slot at West Point after high school.
Bill, that is true. I was the highest student ROTC member in Detroit and was thrilled to get an offer from West Point. But I knew medicine is what I wanted to do. So I applied to only one school. (it was all the money I had). I applied to Yale and thank God they accepted me. I often wonder what might have happened had they said no.
Last question as it is getting late. A young nurse in Ohio wants to know how many patients did I treat during my career.
I treated over 15,000 patients in some 57 countries. We lived in Australia for a while as well. One of the most gratifying moments of each day is when I run into a former patient like I did tonight. My patients were all quite ill. I love seeing them with their families living normal lives. I think it is more gratifying than serving in Congress.
Speaking of serving in Congress. I constantly get asked how could I possibly become President when I have no political experience. Here is what I say. The current Members of Congress have a combined 8,788 years of political experience. How is that working out? People forget that of our 56 founding fathers who risked it all to sign the Declaration of Independence, Five were Doctors.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Judge orders access to Hillary's personal emails
on: August 14, 2015, 04:30:34 PM
After Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cleaned the server she used during her tenure as Secretary of State and handed it over to the FBI, a federal judge made an order that the Justice Department and the FBI gain access to the 32,000 emails Clinton did not turn over because she classified them as “personal.”
Before releasing the server, along with three thumb drives containing a redacted list of emails, Clinton released 55,000 pages comprised of 30,000 emails that she deemed “work-related” to the State Department last year, and then claimed that she deleted over 30,000 emails that she had deemed “personal.”
[RELATED: Hillary Clinton Deletes All Emails, Wipes Server Clean]
Out of the 30,000 emails the State Department has access to, it has released 40 to I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community. On Tuesday, he classified two of those emails as “top secret,” containing the highest classification of government intelligence information.
After it was revealed that at least two messages had been upgraded to classified, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered the Justice Department work with the FBI to gain access to the trove of “personal” emails Clinton claimed she deleted.
[RELATED: Breaking The Law? Hillary Clinton Used Private Email As Secretary of State]
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said that the Committee is now aware that they “didn’t get all the relevant documents from that server and the American people are entitled to them.”
The Washington Times noted that while one judge is “trying to decide how the government is going about determining what classified information is included” in Clinton’s emails, another judge is “exploring the email practices” of Clinton’s top aides, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills.
Although Clinton insisted that her server did not contain any classified information, McCullough’s “top secret” findings add to the list of false claims she has made about her email use as Secretary of State.
[RELATED: Fact Check: Holes In Hillary’s Email Story]
Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News, noted that while Clinton’s server contained “top secret,” or the highest level of information that could potentially cause “grave harm” to national security, General David Petraeus had access to classified information, which is at the lowest level, and he was “indicted, prosecuted and convicted” for having the materials “in a desk drawer in his house.”
Prior to the revelation that Clinton’s email account contained “top secret” information, two inspectors general requested that the State Department conduct a criminal investigation into Clinton’s email practices after a memo was released, which stated that Clinton’s private email account contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: July PPI
on: August 14, 2015, 02:22:58 PM
The Producer Price Index Rose 0.2% in July To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
The Producer Price Index (PPI) rose 0.2% in July, coming in above the consensus expected gain of 0.1%. Still, producer prices are down 0.8% versus a year ago.
The rise in producer prices was led by prices for final demand services, up 0.4% in July. Energy prices declined 0.6% in July while food prices declined 0.1%. Producer prices excluding food and energy were up 0.3%.
In the past year, prices for services are up 0.6%, while prices for goods are down 3.7%. Private capital equipment prices increased 0.4% in July and are up 0.3% in the past year.
Prices for intermediate processed goods declined 0.2% in July and are down 6.5% versus a year ago. Prices for intermediate unprocessed goods declined 2.9% in July, and are down 22.6% versus a year ago.
Implications: Producer prices rose faster than the consensus expected for a third straight month and have now risen at the fastest three-month pace since early 2011. The service sector led the way in July, rising 0.4% as prices for guestroom rentals, up 9.9%, accounted for nearly half the increase. Prices for goods took a breather in July, down 0.1%, but have continued to show a clear acceleration of late. While goods prices remain down 3.7% from a year ago, they are up at a 2% rate over the past six months, and up a faster 8% rate over the past three months. Energy prices, which have been the key driver behind goods prices since mid-2014, dipped 0.6% in July, but are up 35% at an annual rate over the past three months. Meanwhile, the outbreak of the bird flu that has pushed food prices higher also showed some relief in July, highlighted by a 24.8% decline in the price of eggs. While producer prices are down from a year ago, the 0.2% increase in overall producer prices in July comes on the back of a 0.4% rise in June and a 0.5% jump in May. Combined, these represent the fastest three-month rise in prices in more than four years, and show a trend in inflation above the Fed’s 2% target. And while the Fed is more focused on its own expectations for future inflation, the recent trend gives them ample basis to begin raising rates in September. Further down the chain, prices remain volatile. Prices for intermediate processed goods are down 6.5% in the past year, but are up at a 6.3% annual rate over the past three months. Prices for intermediate unprocessed goods show a similar picture, down 22.6% in the past year, but up at a 5.9% rate in the past three months. Inflation is certainly not a major problem right now, but given the prolonged period of monetary looseness, expect inflation to move gradually higher over the next few years.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington, first Inaugural draft 1789
on: August 14, 2015, 02:06:09 PM
"No compact among men ... can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable, and if I may so express myself, that no wall of words, that no mound of parchment can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other." —George Washington, draft of first Inaugural Address, 1789
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / How TEchnology is changing the future of espionage
on: August 14, 2015, 01:50:36 PM
In 2003, the CIA abducted Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off the streets of Milan. He was suspected of recruiting foreign jihadist fighters and then facilitating their way to Iraq. With Hassan shipped off to Egypt for interrogation, the operation at first appeared to be a success. What happened over the following months and years demonstrated how technology may be the undoing, if not the end, of covert operations.
Twenty-three CIA officers were convicted, in absentia, by the Italian courts of kidnapping Nasr. The operation’s CIA involvement was brought to light when the Italian government traced the activity of cell phones belonging to CIA personnel, ironically using a version of Analyst Notebook, which America had provided to the Italian government as part of a post-9/11 counterterrorism package. Using this software, they found the metadata from the CIA operatives’ cell phones showed that they were at the location of Hassan’s kidnapping at the same time he went missing.
Since the Edward Snowden affair, metadata has become a household word, as has awareness of how powerful this data can be in the wrong hands. When you consider the proliferation of biometric scanners in airports and even on city streets, the difficulties involved in inserting clandestine operatives for covert operations become even more profound. Conducting long-term analysis of big data may be the final blow to the traditional tradecraft we are all familiar with from spy novels and movies.
Cover-identity documents, disguises, and counter-surveillance routes may very well go the way of the dodo, but will this leave America’s intelligence professionals dead in the water without a purpose in life? Or will technology itself facilitate the birth of a new form of intelligence gathering?
In the military, we often refer to the trade secrets we use to conduct operations as ‘tactics, techniques, and procedures.’ Spies use the term ‘sources and methods.’ The ‘methods’ category primarily refers to tradecraft. While supposedly a deeply held secret, many methods of clandestine tradecraft are widely known and featured in films, books, and television shows. Take for example the counter-surveillance route that a spy walks to try to identify enemy counterintelligence agents following him around. Consider the ‘dead drop,’ in which a secret message is hidden away somewhere for the spy’s handler to pick up later that day. Of course, tradecraft gets much more sophisticated than this, but these are examples of basic methods spies use to slip below the radar and go unnoticed.
Former Mossad officer Michael Ross comments on the subject that, “Traditional tradecraft will never be obsolete. Spies will still need to learn cover, detect surveillance, cross borders, recruit sources, conduct clandestine meetings, communicate covertly, engage in direct-action operations and all the myriad of activities that have been relevant to the profession for centuries.”
The spies who use tradecraft are usually those engaged in HUMINT, or human intelligence. That is, the art and science of recruiting sources who have access and placement that allows them to gather information the spy wishes to obtain. HUMINT is considered by many to be the bread and butter of intelligence gathering, although it has given way over the years to SIGINT, or signals intelligence, which eliminates the human factor and gives wrist-wringing bureaucrats more quantifiable metrics.
Human beings are messy and unpredictable, but technology gives us something to measure, which in turn gives policymakers a false sense of security. Of course, SIGINT is only as good as the human beings who interpret it. As a member of the Special Operations Task Force in Iraq, this author recalls numerous examples where Rangers and Special Forces teams were ordered to conduct direct-action raids on the same targets multiple times because someone in the operations center was convinced a terrorist was living there based on SIGINT. Of course, every soldier on the ground knew it wasn’t true as we hit the same target night after night.
One element of tradecraft is utilizing a cover, something we are all familiar with from watching actors like George Clooney in movies like “Syriania.” The clandestine operative assumes a false identity with a fake passport, which helps him infiltrate a foreign country. Michael Ross made extensive use of cover during his time with Mossad, living with a deep-cover identity for seven years while he “lived, worked, and travelled without detection and was able to conduct all manner of clandestine activity and direct-action operations securely.”
However, with the advent of biometric technology such as fingerprint scanners, widely used in airports and customs control points around the world, spies may need to adjust their tradecraft or develop entirely new techniques. One Army Special Operations soldier asked his superiors years ago about what would happen if he was placed under a false identity, passed through customs in Germany where his fingerprints were scanned, and then, 10 years later, went back to Germany on vacation with his family.
Customs officers would read his fingerprints again but see that they are now associated with a completely different name. Now the German authorities know that he was lying to them 10 years ago, or that he is lying to them now. They also now know that he is, or was, a clandestine operative. One shutters to think of what would happen if this same situation were to arise for one of our personnel in Russia, China, or Iran. Because of the proliferation of biometric technology, our highly trained spies may become single-use operatives. Once their biometrics are collected abroad, they can never be used for clandestine work again.
Ross advises, “One way biometrics can be overcome: Don’t go against the tide, swim with it. So long as countries are not sharing biometric information, one identity per country is one interim solution.” Which works, just as long as adversarial countries are not sharing biometric data with one another.
Former CIA Case Officer Jeff Butler (seen in the foreground, featured image) points out that the proliferation of biometrics has likely impacted how the CIA is able to place people in foreign countries using cover, but there are always workarounds as “intelligence agencies simply face greater hurdles in overcoming, or avoiding, biometrics. As a hypothetical, why fly into Frankfurt if it has all the newest biometric gear when you can fly into Split, Croatia, or Ljubljana, Slovenia, and drive to Frankfurt? We are still a ways off from widespread biometric tracking, so workarounds are available. As biometric tracking becomes more widespread, different workarounds will be required.”
But what if the prospective spy had their biometric data collected on a vacation to Thailand they took prior to joining the military or the CIA? What if someone in the Thai government had been selling their country’s biometric data on Americans to a third country, such as Iran or China?
Because of public (government) and private (corporate) partnerships, which are not always visible and are sometimes deliberately secret, one can never be sure of who has access to what information. Those security cameras inside your local deli in New York City may very well pipe into an NYPD database, all without you knowing about it. As biometric technology is introduced in every airport and even in city streets, our intelligence officers will have to continue to innovate to overcome these challenges.
On that note, how hard will it be for intelligence services to recruit spies who have zero social media presence? The CIA will have a tough time finding a 30-year-old recruit who has never traveled abroad (where his biometics may have been gathered) and who has never posted his or her pictures on social media. Ross points out that intelligence services are well aware of the problem, but that there are mitigation measures:
“An under-30 recruit will likely have some form of social media profile, but that will also be examined as part of his or her recruitment as well as an indicator as to his or her level of discretion and maturity. There’s nothing wrong with a social media profile, but it will have to be minimized. Don’t underestimate the capability of modern intelligence services to manipulate the data through their partnerships within the private sector. If the NSA had Google, Facebook, et. al. on board for data collection, what’s to say the CIA couldn’t have someone’s social media profile altered, if not completely erased?”
SOFREP writer and intelligence analyst Coriolanus remarked that everyone in the intelligence community knows that not having a Facebook profile is a huge indicator of nefarious activity, especially when taken together with another indicator that the person may be a spy. Former CIA Case Officer Lindsay Moran commented on the topic of a spy not having a social media presence: “It doesn’t make sense when, and if, that recruit is employed as a spy to completely drop off social media,” as that could create a signature, or as Coriolanus says, it would indicate ‘derog’ or derogatory behavior, which is used to establish a pattern of life.
As a CIA case officer, Lindsay Moran spent years working as a spy in Eastern Europe.
Moran continues by saying that social media cuts both ways, against as well as in a favor of, the intelligence officer. “Social networks do a lot of a case officer’s work for him or her. So much of a potential target’s personal information that used to take months, or even years of rapport, development, and elicitation to uncover, is often right there out in the open.” Interestingly, this also highlights a heightened importance of OSINT—open-source intelligence—in today’s era of espionage. In the information age, there is more information/intelligence (note that the Chinese, for example, do not differentiate between these two words) than ever before. “How much bang for our buck are we actually getting in traditional covert HUMINT collection?” Moran asks. “The future of espionage might also be collection via OSINT.”
Another tool for intelligence services is metadata. Rather than simply look at the actual contents of phone conversations, text messages, and emails, metadata is the underlying technical information used to make those transactions possible and contains information about how, when, and where you communicate from. This type of information can be analyzed and used by intelligence professionals in many different ways. The cell phone itself is essentially a sensor, one that doesn’t need to be placed by covert operatives, but rather one we all voluntarily carry in our pockets.
For instance, one can examine what times someone places calls on their cell phone, and from this, they can develop an idea of an individual’s circadian rhythms. This alone will quickly allow an intelligence analyst to narrow down what time zone this person is living in.
Much of this data falls under the category of lawful collection in Western countries. Other nations are likely to be even less restrictive on their counterintelligence operatives who are hunting for our spies. It was no coincidence that after the Boston bombing, cell phone towers were shut down, but only so much as to prevent people in the area of the blast from making phone calls; they could still send text messages. This measure forced people into using a communication medium that could be lawfully intercepted and tracked by law enforcement without having to acquire a warrant.
How can this affect our spies? Another aspect of tradecraft is running surveillance detection routes (SDRs) to spot counterintelligence agents and allow our spies to meet with their assets in a clandestine manner. Obviously, this becomes highly problematic when foreign governments are tracking metadata emitted by our cell phones. “Surveillance detection routes are a funny thing, and are supposed to be designed for figuring out if you have surveillance on you. You would never do one with a cell phone on you, or iPod, or iPad, for the sole reason they can be tracked,” Butler explains. “That means don’t use them in operations, don’t ever do ops on an attributable phone, regularly scan vehicles/rooms for bugs, and generally avoid repetition in operations. For example, don’t use the same meeting site twice. Good ole’ fashioned tradecraft still applies, even to avoid technological pitfalls.”
This places a heavy burden on the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology. These are the technical experts charged with keeping the CIA’s case officers informed and equipped to avoid technological counterintelligence methods they may encounter in the field.
However, there can be issues with “going dark.” If the country you are operating in is always monitoring your metadata, but at key moments you abandon your phone, that in itself is a signature, and you could become very interesting to counterintelligence agents. Michael Ross speaks to his experience with Mossad: “If you are too high profile, or your signature is that noticeable—even in its absence—you’re doing it wrong. It’s bad tradecraft to suddenly disappear. Things can be changed gradually: Commercial companies reorganize, merge with other entities, and sometimes move to a new location. People move from one position to another or emerge in a new profession. It’s all about making it look routine and maintaining the appearance of normalcy.”
The birth of a new form of espionage?
There will always be counters and workarounds. Technology can always be defeated with greater technology. Biometric sensors can be spoofed if intelligence agencies are able to gain access to the programming that its software operates on and start changing around the ones and zeroes in the code. False social media “personas” can be developed over long periods of time. Metadata can also be spoofed to provide spies with “tailored access” to the areas that they need to penetrate. Of course, all of this would be expensive and time consuming.
In the future, robots may do most of the spying for us. Just as the cellular phone is a sensor used to collect intelligence, increasingly more and more “smart” devices are on the commercial market, which includes various types of sensors. It could be our kitchen appliances spying on us tomorrow, and that isn’t an exaggeration. Not only will these robots surround us and gather information about us, but they will also work in concert. The data derived from all of these devices can be aggregated; they will work together in a gestalt that will map out our entire lives.
The proliferation of technology may give rise to a new form of intelligence gathering, a new type of ‘int.’ The spy of the future may be a high-speed cable repairman whose function is to emplace technology near the person or people we need to collect information from.
In the past, human intelligence gatherers would directly recruit assets who had access and placement that our spies coveted. In the future, biometrics, metadata, and other more novel technologies may make the recruitment of assets difficult, if not impossible, using old-school tradecraft. Instead, our spies may infiltrate near would-be assets to place devices that would allow them to listen in. They may recruit assets, often unwitting, who would than electronically bug the real asset we want information from.
For example, an American intelligence officer could replace a janitor’s broom with an identical broom loaded with a concealed device. The next time the broom is is used by the janitor in a sensitive facility, the device inside would electronically ‘slurp’ up data, and then transmit it to the intelligence officer who would be nearby to download it onto his smartphone. This sort of technological intelligence-gathering-by-proxy may become much more commonplace in the coming years due to the pressure placed on traditional tradecraft from the technological measures discussed above.
Perhaps sometime in the not-so-distant future, nations will engineer operatives from birth for the purpose of espionage. While it may sound outlandish at the moment, we are already on the cusp of several paradigm-changing technologies likely to alter the way we live even more dramatically than the invention of the Internet and telecommunications technologies. These technologies will also impact how we fight and how we spy on each other.
In the coming decades, biometric scanners, statistical analysis of big data, are likely to make it much more difficult to place spies under a cover and have them conduct covert activities. A spy can change a lot of things about him or herself for purposes of deception, but not his DNA, and DNA scanners may be one of the key technologies mentioned above.
Will states and non-state actors one day engineer human beings to be spies from the time they are in the womb? In this manner, their entire life would be their cover, with no actual deception aside from the intent of the spy. When this subject was mentioned, Lindsay Moran joked, “Like the Russians do it?”
However, human beings are not interchangeable parts in a mechanical machine. Moran explained that the qualities needed in a spy can’t really be grown in a laboratory. “That sounds like a viable option, but you cannot really know who is going to be predisposed for the career and craft. It draws upon such a unique combination of personality traits and skills, such as extraversion, street smarts, curiosity, and even a certain amount of empathy.”
“This is a very outside-the-box approach,” Ross explained. “But to me, it seems to delve too far into the realm of science fiction. There’s really no way of knowing if someone has the aptitude to be a good spy from birth. With all the training in the world, you either have the innate ability to operate in the field or you don’t. My former service [Mossad] expends a lot of effort into that weeding-out process.”
From experimentation in gene doping to advanced technologies like the TALOs project, the next 50 years will be interesting to say the least. How much of our science fiction becomes science fact during that time is a question likely to keep more than a few of our intelligence professionals up at night.
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